Thursday, August 27, 2015

Savages in San Francisco – A Concert Review

     The trip to Great American Music Hall was the third opportunity to see Savages. The other two occurred in 2013, when they visited San Francisco and we traveled to the Austin City Limits Festival. The expectation was that the Punk Rock band would provide the high energy, highly entertaining show that we experienced two years ago.
     Surprisingly, the performance has very noticeably improved. Jehnny Beth remains the charismatic figure who is almost a black hole with respect to attention. One difference is the improved “tightness” in the coordination of the band members. It would be easy to dismiss the improvement as a mere result of playing the same songs many times between their visits to San Francisco. That dismissal fails, since Savages is playing songs that we assume will be part of an upcoming album (at the bottom of this post is the setlist of the Savages’ San Diego performance on Sunday; there are more similarities than differences).  
      Another difference is the mixing. The instruments now receive a greater emphasis, but without pushing Beth’s voice to a subordinate role. Mixing is particularly difficult for bands, such as Savages, that place an emphasis on thunderous drums for many of their song. In addition to Beth, the members of Savages are guitarist Gemma Thompson, drummer Fay Milton and bassist Ayse Hassan. We can’t say whether it was the mixing, but Thompson’s guitar work certainly drew more attention than in 2013.
The soundboard remained dormant one hour
after the scheduled start time.
     The short memory of the attendees was also surprising. The tickets were clear – Doors open at 8:00 and the show starts at 9:00. With no opening band, the expectation was that Savages would hit the stage at about 9:15. But at 10:15 there was still no sign of the band. Patience was in short supply for concert-goers within earshot of us. Our thinking was that the band would not be able to win the crowd back. Wrong! By the third song, all was forgiven, since the band was fully engaged with the performance and Beth interacted with the audience with a regularity that evidenced the band’s respect for their fans.
     The final surprise – Jehnny Beth seems to have accepted the fact that cameras at a concert are a reality. People who went to see Savages at The Independent in 2013 were told at the door that the band would prefer that phones remain in pockets. At Austin City Limits, Beth quietly and motionlessly stood at the edge of the audience for close to a minute, then stated that she had satisfied the needs of others to capture the moment, so fans should pocket their cameras. At Great American Music Hall, she seemed at ease with the many cameras. The only sign to the contrary was when she engaged with the person recording the video embedded below. Beth seemed pleasant, but signaled some irritation, when she offered to put the video on Youtube (obviously, the person didn’t need assistance). [Thank you Justin Hyde.]

The setlist for Savages at The Casbah in San Diego (August 23, 2015)
1. City's Full
2. Shut Up
3. The Answer
4. Sad Person
5. Slowing Down The World
6. I Need Something New
7. Evil
8. Adore
9. Strife
10. No Face
11. Hit Me
12. She Will
13. Fuckers

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