Tuesday, March 4, 2008

No room for gray: the Hives rock the Riv

photo by Jason Horine

Youth is alive and well in this country. Don't let anyone tell you differently. The pure energy, vigor, rage and spirit have not yet been consumed by complacency, and for this we should be grateful. Adolescence is a time of rights and wrongs, dos and don'ts, all or nothing –- and perhaps it's this duality that drives the vitality of young life. Maybe the album title for the latest release from the Hives, The Black and White Album, is not intentionally referring to this particular paradox, but their sound is certainly a fitting background score.

When the Swedish quintet took the stage Friday night at the Riviera Theater, the packed house of sweating, undulating, violent youth consumed every power chord, howl and scissor-kick. With their punk-rock sound more refined than ever (and black and white outfits pristine as always), the Hives were simultaneously precise and frenetic, volatile and predictable, and came off as true rock veterans.

Lead singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist carries the most magnetism, doing his best Mick Jagger struts and pouts and hip-pops, demanding noise and applause from his audience like an attention-starved child. In return, he provides plenty of reason for a vibrant reaction, and the band's connectivity with the crowd is inspiring. Even his English-as-a-second-language between-song-banter is pure rock 'n' roll: "It is quite possible," Almqvist proposes midway through their set, "that this is the best Hives show in the history of the world."

Opening with "Hey Little World" and "Try It Again" from their latest album, it was Almqvist and lead guitarist Nicholaus Arson who really set the tempo. Spending time in Oxford, Mississippi, recording Black and White appeared to have rubbed off on Howlin' Pelle, lending even more justification to his nickname, as he often sounded like a southern bluesman trapped in 130 pounds of skinny Swede. Arson was just as compelling, thrashing through each song postured in classic rock stance or tip-toeing the edge of the outreached fan fingertips.

Along with Dr. Matt Destruction (bass), Vigilante Carlstroem (guitars), and Chris Dangerous (drums) -- who generally stayed to the background, letting Almqvist and Arson shine brightest -- the Hives worked their way through several tracks from Tyrannosaurus Hives, but really lit up the Riv at the halfway mark: Truly in top form, they nailed crowd fave "Hate to Say I Told You So", reminding us why so much hype surrounded the band several years ago.

Unfortunately, there is a reason that punk-rock songs tend to be no longer than three minutes long. The repetition and simplicity that defines the genre can also be a limitation, so when a set lasts longer than the normal 35 to 45 minutes that constitutes a typical album, the final few songs tend to feel a lot less fun. The band certainly maintained a high level of energy throughout, and the moshing and crowd-surfing never seemed to wane, but when latest single, "Tick Tick Boom" -– a romping wall of guitars and vocals that is inherently a great single -– begins to sound strikingly similar to "Hate to Say I Told You So," it's time to wrap things up. Fortunately, that's just what the Hives did.

Opening the night were veteran rockers the Donnas. Their watered-down punk-meets-glam rock was fun 10 years ago when the novelty of an all-girl rock group was appealing. The only real remaining talent seemed to be with guitarist Allison Robertson's face-melting solos. Unfortunately, she was relegated to second billing, while the tight jeans and hair-and-make-up of lead vocalist, Brett Anderson, took center stage. - Jason Horine