Sunday, May 25, 2008

Concert Review: The Hives - Winnipeg, May 20, 2008

After lining up for over an hour outside, I ended up at the front of the stage for this general admission show, and it turned out to be a blast despite not being sold out.

The Hives' lead singer Pelle Almqvist channels Mick Jagger, right down to the cocksure rooster strutting. Guitarist Nicholaus Arson (Niklas Almqvist, his brother) was Almqvist's partner in showmanship, running all over the stage and appearing inches away from falling into the audience, while sometimes allowing fans to pluck the strings on his guitar. At one point, Arson's guitar appeared suddenly out of nowhere, inches from my face as he stopped a controlled skid just before outfitting me with a new set of braces, courtesy of his Fender Telecaster. Almqvist's main schtick was to play to the audience at the edge of the stage, slapping outreached hands repeatedly half the time. You'd think the audience would have had their fill, but there were many repeat customers reaching from all directions.

As people were jockeying for a spot as close to the stage as possible, one of the security warned us that the lead singer would be spending a lot of time out in the crowd and that's exactly what happened. He perched himself on the wood railings and walked out to thrill the fans in the first five rows or so. At one point he climbed almost to the top of one of the lodges and managed to descend without incident. I somehow escaped getting a boot in the face from one of Almqvist's many wild kicks. It would have been accurate to describe the near-miss as almost getting a white patent leather shoe in the face.

Yes, as is the routine, they took to the stage in the exact same black suits with ties. Drummer Chris Dangerous (Christian Grahn) flicked out several drum sticks, some gently tossed to fans at the front of the stage while others were flung with Olympian gusto to reach as high and as far as they would carry. Bassist Dr. Matt Destruction (Mattias Bernvall) more or less played the straight man before grinning like a crazed Jack Nicholson in The Shining towards the end of the show, where he roamed the stage, offering multitudes of hands chances to pluck some of the Precision Bass's strings. I took advantage of one such chance. Guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem (Mikael Karlsson Åström) appeared to not smile at all, but was a riff master on his axe, nonetheless.

Pretty much everything they played was at two speeds - fast and faster. No power ballads for these guys. Their music can best be described as manic power pop with colossal rock 'n' roll riffs and chords that wouldn't be out of place in the Rolling Stone or AC/DC cannon.

Sure, you could say that a lot of their music sounds alike or that they lack variety. Musically, are they a one-trick pony with a Stripes-like costume gag? Perhaps. But for pure, high energy fun, they are hard to beat. Pelle Almqvist makes the Strokes front man Julian Casablancas seems rather sedate in comparison.

Opening quartet Locksley, originally from Madison, Wisconsin, were surprisingly good. Their brand of infectious power pop was an excellent match for the Hives and the openers even included the White Stripes "Hotel Yorba" and the Rolling Stones classic "Get Off My Cloud". I could hear people beside me being wowed by Locksley, and I made a point of shaking hands with the lead singer as he was doing the roadie thing for his gear, and telling him that I would buy their CD. As it turns out, they had two discs for sale and I bought both from the drummer (Sam Bair) as the fans were exiting. Locksley reminded me of the UK band Franz Ferdinand, who also have a bit of a classic British sound, along the lines of the Kinks. Their guitarist, Kai Kennedy, was also surprisingly adept. They are named after the fabled land where Robin Hood is from.

The sound from my vantage point wasn't great and it sure appeared as if Almqvist's microphone quit a number of times. But, when you're that close to the band, bouncing up and down along with a bunch of happy people, you just can't help but have a great time. If you were further back, you experience may have varied.

I noticed that few seats were sold in the top level were sold and it was later announced that about 1100 people showed up. The venue holds about 1642.

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