Savage appeal: Post-punk returns with a vengeance

  • Article by: CHRISTINA SCHMITT , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 16, 2013 - 12:49 PM

Evoking such 1970s-’80s acts as Joy Division, the female quartet Savages returns to Minneapolis riding a wave of excitement.

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*Jehnny Beth and Savages come to First Avenue.

Photo: Paulo Duarte • Associated Press,

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Things felt familiar, but then they didn’t, back in July when Savages played a sold-out show at the Triple Rock in Minneapolis. Black was the new black, as usual. So was the aggro soundtrack in the bar before the show. But there was also an ambient, Euro club vibe, and the night’s headliner, Savages, was an all-female post-punk band. Nice.

The night before, Savages played at the Pitchfork music festival in Chicago. Big gigs have become the norm for the London-based band, which was this year’s hit at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas. Since then, the band has been featured by trendy music blogs as well as mainstream outlets such as NPR.

The band, which returns Tuesday to play for a much bigger crowd at First Avenue, has been going nonstop since it was formed little more than a year ago. In May it released a full-length album, “Silence Yourself.” Comparisons to British post-punks Siouxsie Sioux and Joy Division — singer Jehnny Beth is a ringer for the band’s frontman, Ian Curtis, with her cropped hair and jerky motions on stage — have haunted them ever since.

So Beth was easy to spot before the show. She was sitting on a bar stool, typing on her tablet, next to Johnny Hostile as he played a video game. Hostile is like the fifth Savage — he dates Beth, produces the band and plays in bands with Beth and Savages guitarist Gemma Thompson.

Hostile also was the opening act that night — just himself, his guitar, a rockabilly swagger and prerecorded effects. Things became claustrophobic in the room when the crowd gathered for Savages. They opened with the rhythmic “City’s Full,” inspiring a dance party to dark lyrics: “Your serious eyes / dehumanize.”

• • •

Reached a couple of weeks ago by phone from London, Savages bassist Ayse Hassan had a rare free night. The band was getting ready for its upcoming fall tour of the United States, which includes a stint of shows as an opener for Queens of the Stone Age. There is no planned recess in sight for the band.

“We’re getting used to coming up with ideas on the road, being mobile, and trying to put all our ideas into practice on the road,” Hassan said, not worried about taking time out to create new material. “We’re consciously always thinking of making a gig an event.”

Hassan’s Gang of Four style of playing bass was high in the mix at their Triple Rock show back in July. She sounded great, inspiring one drunk to shout: “I love the bass.” Hassan laughed when she was told about that, and said she can’t really pinpoint how she came up with her style: “The bass resonates with me in a really primitive way,” she said simply.

There are sexual allusions in Savages songs — Beth has said their song “Hit Me” was inspired by porn star Belladonna — but onstage, they appear androgynous, all dressed in black, just a foursome rocking out. “We don’t feel the need to be sexual to appeal to people or to get our music heard,” Hassan said.

• • •

Back in July, Beth said to the Triple Rock crowd, “Let’s get loose!” It didn’t seem that people really believed her. There was a disconnect between the band and crowd. As is their usual practice, Savages posted signs on the bathroom doors asking people to silence their phones and immerse themselves in the show. So when a guy in front of the stage held up his camera fairly close to Beth, viewers held their breath. Would there be a Cat Power-worthy meltdown? No. Beth sang to him, sang him down, until he blended back into the crowd.

Hassan kept zooming along, with Thompson’s ethereal guitar playing over the top. The mostly excellent drummer Fay Milton occasionally stumbled over the tempo, then got back into it.

The heavy radio play Savages has enjoyed on 89.3 the Current was paying off, as the crowd reacted after only a few notes of their single, “Husbands.” They finished, said a polite thank you, unplugged and were done. Until next time.

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  • The Savages are, from left, Fay Milton, Gemma Thompson, Jehnny Beth and Ayse Hassan.

  • SAVAGES

    With: London multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood.

    When: 7 p.m. Tue.

    Where: First Avenue, 701 1st Av. N., Mpls.

    Tickets: $17 advance, $20 door; eTix.com or 612-338-8388.

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