Posted January 28, 2009

Metro Theatre, Sydney
January 6, 2009

PHOTOS: RICHARD SHARMAN of Blackshadow Photography

“Rejoice, for I have returned!”

Four years ago, I rated The Hives as one of the best bands I’d ever seen. I’d have to re-assess that now. The Hives are the best live rock and roll act it has ever been my pleasure to catch.

The queue from the door stretched over 100 yards up the lane shortly after 8pm. It didn’t move too quickly either, with tickets being checked, bags being searched, directions given to this or that side of the staircase. First up was some crew named Galvetron, who should’ve been named The Cliches. Sounded like Van Halen circa 1984, foot up on the foldback for solos, all that. It might have been meant to be a pisstake, but they weren’t that good. Still, I got a few good belly laughs out of it.

The Hives put on a show. A lot of thought has obviously gone into the entire presentation, from white amplifiers, each bearing the name of the user – ‘Vigilante’ and ‘Carlstrom’ replacing the two Hiwatt nameplates on one rig – to dance moves, to clothes. I dig the idea of dressing up to put on a show and the five Hives entered the stage one by one, decked out in black and white private schoolboy uniforms, white shoes, black shirt and trousers, black and white striped ties and black blazers with the Hives’ crest on the breast.

Frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist was the last to hit the stage and the crowd was a seething mass, all too ready to dive into the experience. The band exploded, as tight and hard-hitting as anything you’d imagine, Howlin’ Pelle delivering high kicks, leaps and mic stand tricks worthy of James Brown. Within two minutes, they had the crowd at their mercy.

The braggadocio was a little more muted than it used to be but more focussed, delivered in a soul preacher’s style that was far more effective at whipping up excitement and response in the crowd, whether clapping along, chanting or singing. The Fleshtones are the only other band I’ve seen that got the audience involved and made them such a part of the show, yet they lacked The Hives’ sheer dynamism.

Without a crowd barrier, Howlin’ Pelle was free to throw himself into the audience. Soaked in sweat – “it’s hot in here – any room I walk into instantly gets very hot – but I’ve done it many times before, so you’ve got nothing to worry about” – black shirt sticking to his skinny torso, fringe flopping over his forehead and hands reaching out to touch him, it was a vision straight out of a rock and roll history book. Elvis Presley, circa 1955.

Musically, there was more variation – the straightforward rocking numbers were complemented by several songs with a classic mid-60s pop sensibility and an R&B number straight out of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ catalogue. The band were as tight and drilled as any worthwhile soul revue ought to be. They played two covers (Hellacopters and Misfits) in the encore, having done an all-covers show the night before, before the house light came up on a room full of smiling, satisfied punters.

There’s one reference point that demands acknowledgement. A band with the same kind of lineup, the same stated ambition of being the best live band in the world, the same soul revue approach to a show and willingness to involve the audience. Yep, the MC5. I’ve only got footage to compare it to, but nothing else I’ve seen comes close.

The Hives are the best live rock and roll band in the world today.