Austin, Tx—Ah, yes: THIS is how South by Southwest is supposed to work! Your feet ache from running around nonstop for the past 14 hours, then hiking two miles to yet another crappy venue with a lousy sound system. Your stomach is funky from too much meat. The mediocre to dreadful acts today have far outnumbered the good ones (four to one, to be precise; thank you, Pumcayó).
And then you see god.
Based in London, Savages are a group of four young women on guitar, drums, bass and vocals who play with a galvanizing ferocity. Their influences, especially in terms of the unrelentingly minimalist approach to song structure, melody and image, are obvious: Wire, Gang of Four and the Slits. But there isn’t a hint of imitation here; no whiff of anything but pure personality. You may as well never have heard another punk or post-punk band before, because that’s the way you feel after these four finish assaulting you songs such as “Shut Up,” “She Will” and “Husbands,” which finds singer Jehnny Beth, a.k.a. French native Camille Berthomier, wailing, “God, I wanna get rid of it, yeah/Rid of it/My house, my bed… my husbands!”
And all of this in half an hour that seems to last about five minutes.
The group has just been signed to one of the best indie labels in America, with the announcement coming next week, and hopefully an album shortly thereafter. You’ve been warned.
After a set that exquisitely satisfying, you know that nothing else you hear this evening will even come close. Thankfully, the other great band I saw played just before Savages, at a venue almost as horrid as last night’s Hype Hotel or the always wretched Stubb’s. Dubbed 1100 Warehouse, this was yet another temporary club set up in a hangar-like space that reportedly usually serves as a poultry slaughterhouse.
Matt Korvette took the stage and cheekily announced that the Foo Fighters were backing David Bowie at a no-badges-needed surprise show with tons of free beer a block away, and he thought it only fair to tell everyone. None of that was true—at that moment, Dave Grohl was jamming with Stevie Nicks and Rick Springfield across town as part of his Sound City All-Stars revue—but Korvette clearly wanted to rid the room of anyone who wasn’t worthy of the punk-rock fury that his band Pissed Jeans was about to unleash.
This Allentown, Pennsylvania-based quartet has recorded four merciless albums to date, the last three—including the recent Honeys—for Sub Pop Records. But it’s an experience best appreciated live, where Korvette channels early Jello Biafra in the way he throws himself about the stage, and the band’s powerful pummeling may be rewarded with an old-school ’80s-style mosh pit like the one that erupted at 1100 Warehouse.
Come to think of it, the place’s alleged past as a slaughterhouse may have been exactly the right setting for both Pissed Jeans and Savages.
My complete coverage of SXSW 2013