VIENNA, Va., June 22, 2012 — It was early 2002 when the Hives’ second album, Veni Vidi Vicious, started to get recognition and play in the United States. It was a little strange to see an album by a Swedish punk band released nearly two years prior, making such an impact in this country. Contemporaries of the Hives had made headway in the States, but usually with underground and niche appeal. But, on the back of their single “Hate to Say I Told You So,” the Hives exploded.
So it wasn’t all that surprising, given the Hives’ history with this country, that the audience was ramped up for the band’s set at the 9:30 Club Tuesday night. The show was sold out and with good reason.
The backdrop of the stage was an enlarged face of an all-seeing puppeteer sporting a particularly devilish grin. The strings extending from his hands curved in such way that they left the impression that the strings weren’t going straight down but slightly tilted toward the stage in front of the image. The likely implication: the band members were the marionettes and the puppeteer was controlling all their actions on stage. It’s easy to push the analogy even further by saying the band was actually playing the audience the whole time.
To further enhance this marionette metaphor, the Hives were dressed to the nines like perfect representations of the puppets they hoped to emulate. Hives’ lead singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist stated the reasoning behind their attire was to honor Top Hat Tuesday. And, in a very tongue-in-cheek manner, he chastised every member of the audience for not following suit and dressing up for the evening. Howlin’ Pete’s attitude towards the crowd would become a running theme for the entire night.
It always seems as though the bands from across the Atlantic have a better sense for the theatrics of rock and roll, especially when they’re situated outside the English-speaking world. There’s an understanding that when playing rock and roll live there are more important things for the band to do than just perform their music expertly and efficiently. Thus, it’s necessary to add a little drama. That belief starts out with the visual impact of the band. And, as the night soon proved, the Hives’ distinct visual has always centered on their habit of dressing as impeccably as possible.
This visual appeal offers even more insight into the band’s sonic roots and what they choose to perform live. When they first got mainstream attention, the Hives were lumped in with growing movement dubbed “Garage Rock,” “Garage Punk,” or whatever phrase to express the idea of loose sound rock and roll. Even though they became connected with this motif, it wasn’t necessarily who the Hives actually were, musically speaking. What they really are is a modernized version of British Invasion Rock performed with punk rock immediacy cranked up to 11 on the volume control.
Even though the band takes distinct cues both sonically and visually from bands that populated the British Isles in the ‘60s, their attitude is still very much that of northern Europe. It’s minor entertainment given the context, but one of the joys of seeing the Hives is listening to Almqvist interact with the audience or just hype the songs in general. At one point, while dealing with a heckler, he mentioned that English is his second language, although from the way he talks, it seems like he learned English by listening exclusively to southern preachers in the U.S. Everything he says ends on a positive uptick as he rallies the crowd into a frenzy in preparation for each song.
This all dovetails back into the night’s marionette motif. The Hives played the audience like a fiddle, amping up the speed and volume of their set as it progressed. The audience at the 9:30 Club allowed the Hives to pull their strings all night allowing them to move and rock out with the best.
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