SEATTLE — President Bush may enjoy record-high approval ratings, but that doesn’t mean he’s immune to coup attempts. During their Friday set at the Showbox, Swedish garage-rockers the Hives announced their intention to overthrow the Land of the Free.
“We took the liberty of changing your flag,” singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist said, pointing to a backdrop of Old Glory done up in black and white to match the band’s mod outfits. “We thought it needed changing, like a lot of things in [this] country. For example, I’m your new president.”
Humble, the Hives are not. But considering their mission is nothing short of rerouting rock from its nü-metal and teen pop course onto a road of amped-up freneticism based on nothin’ but good times, humility wouldn’t do them any good.
In the 40 over-caffeinated minutes they spent onstage, the five-piece outfit whipped the crowd into a sweaty mess with a set culled largely from their recently re-released 2000 album, Veni Vidi Vicious (“Swedo-Latin” for “We came, we saw, we conquered,” according to Almqvist).
The band was itself a sweaty mess. Rhythm guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem contorted his face as if he were perpetually falling down the first drop of a massive rollercoaster while fresh-faced lead guitarist Nicholaus Arson (looking like Sweden’s answer to “Spider-Man” star Tobey Maguire) wriggled and writhed during “Die, All Right!” like he’d just been bitten by some radioactive bug.
The spotlight belonged to Almqvist with his Mick Jagger pout, Roger Daltrey mic swings and Freddie Mercury marching. Leaning forward, with one foot on his monitor and his eyes locked on some distant point in the future, he looked like some stylized figure from a Soviet-era government poster — propaganda for the New Garage Order. He expertly rallied the masses to the cause on songs like “Main Offender.”
“This is our contribution to world peace,” he said, intro’ing the insistent, Stooge-y single “Hate to Say I Told You So.” “Turn my back on the rot that’s been planning the plot,” Almqvist sang, with half the dancing crowd hollering right along with him.
Along with other high-octane, retro brigades such as the (International) Noise Conspiracy and the Soundtrack of Our Lives, the Hives have earned Sweden the mantle of hot new scene. Veni Vidi Vicious is sitting at #3 on Billboard magazine’s Heatseeker chart for new bands. Six months ago, the band played their first-ever Seattle gig opening for T(I)NC at the 500-capacity Graceland. Demand bumped Friday’s sold-out headlining show from that venue to the twice-as-big Showbox.
Representing the other in-scene du jour were New York’s the Mooney Suzuki. Prominent movers in the Big Apple rock revival, the band’s 35-minute set owed more to the wigged-out energy of 1960s Seattle bands like the Sonics and Wailers than to the CBGB sounds of the ’70s, though the band’s deepest allegiance lay with the late-’60s Detroit scene that spawned the MC5. The combination of singer Sammy James Jr.’s beefy vocals, Graham Tyler’s gonzo guitar leads and the showman theatrics of the entire band may be as close as most folks will ever get to the storied over-the-top rock shows of the Motor City’s Grande Ballroom.
While much of the crowd was there to measure the Hives against their hype, the Mooney Suzuki made more than a few converts. On the title song from their latest release, Electric Sweat, Tyler shook his wavy hair and babystepped his way across stage like AC/DC mainman Angus Young. During “In a Young Man’s Mind” (and several other songs, to boot) drummer Augie Wilson got so overcharged he had to stand up to play his kit.
What separates the Mooney Suzuki from many of their garage-rock brethren is a sharp awareness of what made their heroes great. Songs like “Oh Sweet Susanna” revealed the rare but right-on understanding that the MC5 were an R&B band on overdrive, rather than a rock group with some interest in soul.
It’s a lesson the band hopes we’ll learn sooner rather than later.
“We do not have time to mess around,” James said. “We have right now.”
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