If you caught them at just the right moment, the members of Savages looked like they were actually enjoying themselves on stage Thursday at Metro. Drummer Fay Milton would crack a smile, or bassist Ayse Hassan would rock rapturously back and forth. Singer Jehnny Beth bantered good-naturedly with the audience in between songs, as if entertaining a few friends back home in London.
Grins? Small talk? That just wasn't happening on the quartet's first tour of America three years ago. Back then, it was more like the band was collectively lunging at its audience. I remember taking a few instinctive steps backward when they would start playing, as if to avoid getting hit by a flying guitar or drum stick, or one of Beth's death glares.
But the band had earned the right to enjoy the moment for a bit after the acclaim that greeted its debut, "Silence Yourself," in 2013, and the equally impressive follow-up, the recently released "Adore Life." The latter is full of love songs. But, as the band demonstrated at Metro, these are love songs brimming with complications, unresolved questions and not a little blood, metaphorical or otherwise.
It's all a matter of tone. Gemma Thompson's guitar apparently gags at the notion of playing a ballad or anything romantic. Instead, it is a sound machine that turns notes into shrapnel. In 90 minutes, she didn't play a single blues progression or standard rock power chord. The riffs in "She Will" and "Evil" stamped themselves in the subconscious, but how to describe the sheets of sound in "Husbands," the scrape of a single string that led to a scream in "Slow Down," the reverberations that became a pulse in "I Need Something New" and then a series of waves in "The Answer"? Thompson reveled in the physicality of playing her instrument, bumping it against her hip, knocking its frame with her knuckles, waving it at her amplifier as if piercing a hole through the feedback – each shake, shimmy and thump creating a new noise to sculpt.
Milton hit her drums with breath-taking force – threatening to decapitate a cymbal during "She Will" – but also orchestrated them to create hooks and riffs. There were moments when she rolled across the tom and snare drums without striking a cymbal, or played nothing but cymbals. The space she left in the arrangements opened things up for Hassan's bass to become a lead instrument, sketching out melody lines across Thompson's sound collage.
When Beth turned her declaration "I adore life" into a mantra, Hassan, Thompson and Milton worked in unison toward a crescendo. Another, less interesting band, might've added lasers or confetti or thrown roses. But instead of a big payoff, Savages ended the song abruptly, as if to say nothing – not even a smile from the stage – is meant to last.
Savages set list Thursday at Metro
1. I Am Here
2. Sad Person
3. City's Full
4. Slowing Down the World
5. Shut Up
6. She Will
10. When in Love
11. I Need Something New
12. The Answer
13. Hit Me
14. No Face
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