Women in Black: Savages at ACL (review)

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Jehnny Beth, singer of Savages. (screenshot by E.L.)

The good thing about great new bands like England’s Savages is that you can show up at Austin City Limits shortly before their set is about to begin and still be able to get front row. Perhaps it was the ridiculous set time (1 p.m. in the scorching heat, instead of late at night, when this darker-than-dark band is supposed to be seen), or maybe it had do to with the fact that this is the first ACL fest taking place throughout two weekends and more people than expected will attend the second batch of shows. Whatever the reason, I was right there and these four women in black cracked my head open.

Playing most of Silence Yourself, their acclaimed debut full-length, Savages exceeded my own high expectations and more than lived up to their reputation as a terrific live band. They’re masters of control and intensity, and displayed an unusual level of concentration throughout their whole set. Ferocious drummer Fay Milton deliberately had her bass drum cranked all the way up, and she proved to have both a metronome and a cannon in her right foot. Guitarist Gemma Thompson's dirty, distorted, metallic wall-of-sound covered the stage with what I can only describe as color shadows: she’s dense and cerebral, but you can’t help feel euphoric when you see her play off singer Jehnny Beth’s pitch-perfect howls. Bassist Ayse Hassan (who plays with a pick) seems to be the sound of reason and balance, with an elastic style that allows her to keep a solid groove in the middle of Milton’s power and Thompson’s controlled chaos.

This is a band, a real band with four excellent musicians, but in the middle is Beth (actually born in France by the name Camille Berthomier and formerly of French duo John and Jehn), who is much more than a rock frontwoman. She’s a piercing, hypnotic performance artist who could stop any show with screams that would make Patti Smith proud, or she could just stand there and simply talk or recite poetry, and u could hear a pin drop.

They play again tomorrow, October 5, opening for Queens of the Stone Age at Verizon Theatre in Grand Prairie, and 1 p.m. Friday, October 11 at ACL’s Honda stage, and that same night at The Parrish in one of those ACL late night shows (free if you have a wristband).

I will post more Savages videos during the weekend, but enjoy this for now.


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