The Hives at the Vic | Photos and Review
When the Swedish rock band The Hives first encountered major U.S. success in the early aughts, they did so by convincingly imitating—and some might say improving upon—the punk rock sound popularized by groups like Iggy and the Stooges and The Ramones. They did this alongside peers The White Stripes and The Strokes, who together contributed to what was then considered a new landscape of garage rock revivalism. A decade later, The Strokes and The Stripes have either disbanded or experimented with individual projects and new collaborations, but The Hives have barely changed a thing. And with the release of this year’s Lex Hives—a quintessential Hives record—the members are sticking with the same formula and are reveling in it. The Best Live Band on Earth—according to a smattering of important critics—still packs them in now like it did 10 years ago, if Saturday-night’s teeming attendance at the Vic Theatre was any indication. Still wearing their trademark black suits and top hats—and with singer “Howlin’” Pelle Almqvist still full of the same cheesy jokes as always (“if it was up to me there’d be 50 more songs coming your way, but the Chicago Fire department says the band onstage is getting too hot”)—The Hives did on Saturday night what they do best: spat out their raging proto-punk with enough fervor and hijinks to make believers out of even their most timid fans.
The irony here, of course, is that The Hives are not at all the impulsive, off-the-cuff personalities that the anarchic-sound of their music would suggest. What’s more, they make no illusions about their premeditated image. If the tuxedo uniforms weren’t enough, the tour’s stage backdrop is a blown-up, black and white image of Almqvist's face grinning manically down at the band as actual ropes streamed from his hands like puppet strings. With guitarist Nicholaus Arson practicing air splits as well as crowd-surfing, and Almqvist treating every song-break as an opportunity to jokingly remind the crowd just how hardcore his band was, (“This song is so fast I have to go put on a safety belt and use a mic stand”; or “They’ll have to carry us on stretchers on the flight back to Europe!”) Saturday’s performance felt more like being part of a carousing celebration than anything that had to do with angst.
But who cares, when the band’s crisp, boisterous rock ‘n’ roll is turned up to 11, or when you’re in the presence of a singer who will drop kick a water bottle into the audience, and, after multiple fans get ejected for crowd-surfing, take a dive into the masses himself? Whether he was wielding his mic like a machine gun, scaling speakers or reminding the audience that he had, in fact, refused his rightful place on Sweden’s throne to come play in Chicago that night, Almqvist’s cool never wavered. He eased through whip-fast numbers like “No Pun Intended” with sharpened vigor and into swaggering songs like “I Want More” with poise, making every number a satisfying replica of the raging garage rock on his albums. The first song of the night, “C’mon”, was an appropriate beckoning for the crowd to simply keep up with The Hives for the exuberant 90-minute set that was to come. And with the kind of ecstatic performance that The Hives delivered that night, fans know that the band’s actual royal standing—The Best Live Band on Earth—is secure.