As yardsticks for avoiding career progression go, these Swedish garage-rock revivalists take some beating. Not only do they deviate imperceptibly from the sound that saw them break through in 2001, but their constantly mobile frontman looks just as boyish and expends as much energy as when the five-piece from Fagersta first appeared.
Indeed, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist barely pauses for breath over a tough hour and a half of leaping off the drum monitor, clambering over speaker stacks and roaring his group’s dumb-fun lyrics. Coupled with his bandmates’ brisk punk-pop, The Hives as a proposition make more sense live than on record, which explains why they release so few albums.
Fitting in recording around relentless touring schedules, this year’s Lex Hives is only their fifth in 15 years and while recent efforts have seen diminishing returns, such statistics matter little against tonight’s febrile atmosphere. With few acts matching them for raw power and exemplary showmanship, The Hives remain in demand. These dates find them garbed in top hats and tails, removing extraneous layers as the gig progresses, though even full evening dress fails to cramp their style.
If anything, The Hives’ most recent material is among their most dynamic, ‘Wait A Minute’ and the swaggering ‘Patrolling Days’ maintain intensity, the latter proudly introduced by Almqvist as the band’s longest yet, inching over the four-minute mark. Otherwise, the band rarely push boundaries, instead bringing a twitchy precision to Stooges-style proto-punk, while ‘I Want More’ owes much to Joan Jett’s ‘I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’.
Just as compelling are the band's actions between numbers, especially Almqvist with his constant repartee and audience cajolery. “What is the meaning of life?” “The Hives!” respond a well-drilled audience. Just as panto has its sweet-throwing, so the group’s trademark freeze has long been a hardy perennial, though how the quintet play musical statues for a good 30 seconds still impresses. New this year is Almqvist commanding the bulk of the crowd to sit down during the same number (their closing shot, ‘Tick Tick Boom’), an impressive feat in this cavernous former railway building.
The Hives’ most compelling tunes need little ornamentation, with ‘Hate To Say I Told You So’ and ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ detonating forcibly. These escapist, American tropes may come second-hand, but The Hives deliver them such passion that in today’s earnest, serious music scene, their legend is more compelling than ever.