As the travelling circus of the Big Day Out rolls across the country, one of the festivals must-see acts took some time to play an intimate sideshow at the venue formerly known as Billboard. Sweden’s favourite tuxedo-wearing, energy-sapping, hyper-realistic 5-piece The Hives were due to grace us with their presence barely 12 months since their last visit Down Under.
Sydney post-punk act Born Lion perhaps bit off more than they could chew. It’s one thing to be overly confident on stage, it’s another thing to have the material to be able to back it up. Unfortunately, this is a commodity that Born Lion are yet to possess, with average songs followed by equally average banter.
The stage backdrop lit up to reveal a giant picture of The Hives vocalist Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist playing puppeteer and the crowd was building towards capacity, readying themselves for the main act. As drummer Chris Dangerous walks on stage and introduces the opening song Come On!, the crowd exploded into a sea of action.
Souls were bouncing indiscriminately as an early plethora of crowd favourites, including Main Offender, Go Right Ahead and Die, All Right! bashed them around. One girl attempted to carry tree beers through the middle of the madness, rewarding her unsuspecting neighbours with a shower of Carlton Draught.
The sharpness of the Hives sound was only matched by the sharpness of their attire. Their matching custom-made black-and-white frilly tuxedos — similar to the traje de luces worn by a matador — had jackets emblazoned with The Hives logo on the back.
Lead guitarist Nicholaus Arson’s face seemed to move so quick it became almost a blurred image, playing up to the crowd at each end of the stage. Pelle is never to be outdone, though, and constantly provided witty quips at the audience between songs. “It’s not every day you get a band of this calibre playing here,” he proclaims, and if it weren’t so true, it would have actually been funny.
He also did his bit for those keen to watch the show, rather than screens of the person in front of them. Confiscating any phone within reach, he told the owners they could collect them from the stagehand/maraca-playing ninja after the show. It’s a message that was unfortunately lost on a number of my neighbours.
Material from latest album Lex Hives isn’t exactly brand-new, but was received as positively as some of their more well-known tracks, with songs like Take Back The Toys and Wait A Minute seeing as much crowd action as their 2004 hit Walk Idiot Walk.
The pandemonium-inducing opening riffs to Hate To Say I Told You So, perhaps the most well-known Hives song, saw the main standing area completely overcome in a flurry of heads, arms and legs. An encore performance of Tick Tick Boom almost stole the show, though, when Pelle asked the audience to sit down and attempt what he believed to be the first-ever crowd surf with a seated audience.
After five albums, the Hives frontman continues to exhibit the energy and excitement of an 8-year-old boy, and the band gel and perform as tightly as they did more than a decade ago. They still dress to impress, they still take obvious pride in a quality performance, and still relish their on-stage antics.
Almqvist is a showman, perhaps even the best since Freddie Mercury — he’s that good. Affectionate, daring and always with a cheeky sense of humour, he has led his band of merry men to become one of the best live bands on the international circuit.
Photos: The Hives – 170 Russell, Melbourne 21/01/14
Photos by Andrew Briscoe