Alison Mosshart is leaning over the lip of this small sometime-strip club's stage, like a comic-book character forcing her way out of the frame. Her body is tensed, not appearing choreographed, as "No Wow" turns into the primal thump of "Pull A U", and she pushes herself towards us.
In the drainpipe trousers also sported by fellow Kill Jamie Hince, leopard-skin top, and with a rough mane of hair hanging over her eyes, she could be in an Andy Warhol movie, or a Russ Meyer one, and makes me feel like I am, too. Within these first powerful minutes, the intimate, ultimate rock'*'roll world of The Kills has come alive again.
Outside in the Soho rain, bored paparazzi are waiting for Hince's new girlfriend, Kate Moss. Inside, though, his and Mosshart's creative relationship is far more fascinating. They met in 2000, when both washed up in a hotel, bored and somewhat lost. The Kills was based around the bond and unspoken pact they formed there and in the south London flat where they pieced together their raw blues debut, Keep On Your Mean Side (2003).
They built a seedily glamorous private world, from the debris of books, films and records scattered round the place, and a widely read faith in rock'*'roll as a still possible, transforming lifestyle. The sense of carrying freight heavier and cleverer than a few half-absorbed musical influences is crucial to The Kills. The third album, Midnight Boom, which they debut in these appearances, was partly recorded in a Mexican hurricane. Watching them, you can see their initial pact still being played out.
Their obvious comparison as a blues-loving, artful duo is to The White Stripes, and they too make a sound much bigger than two people. The clap of a beat is gently triggered by Hince's boot on an effects box, as Mosshart stamps her foot, from which the sound seems to explode. As with the Whites, other musicians would be a distraction from their own, intimate drama. Where Meg White plays Jack's long-suffering foil, Mosshart is the active partner here. During "Sour Cherry", she prances up to him, his animus and equal, and picks out individual, clanging notes from her guitar, as he sets off a beat like tinkling steel pipes. Hince, squeezed into a tight blazer like an overgrown schoolboy, keeps a careful, constant eye on her, as if looking for clues. On "Tape Song", as she sings, "Time ain't gonna cure you, honey", quick scratches from his guitar wind up her hoarse, dismissive rant.
The nerves behind all this are briefly exposed when Mosshart, hair now swept from her eyes, looks out at the crowd in the pause before "Last Day of Magic". But she is soon acting out a challenge to him again, moving in on his space with fingers curled not quite into claws. He bends towards her, as if solicitously listening to her demands, and uncoils a guitar sound like rusty, squeaking hinges.
They save the best of this relationship for "Kissy Kissy". Swaying round the stage like half-cut bluesmen, their guitars' initial clashing reverberations sound like they're locked in a back-country tin shack. They settle into intensely played, crunching, slashing blues-rock, the beat regular, but the notes slightly off. Then Hince makes the sudden violent thrust of a (perfectly faked) head-butt, a shocking corrective to his previous passivity. She thrusts her bottom out, pure Jagger now, falling back.
Despite such play-acting, there is no hint of real self-destruction about The Kills. Instead this show presents rock as a healthy, vigorous life, if one played out with the visual allure of a cartoon burlesque. In some ways, everything about The Kills is attitude, force of will more than regulation talent. Belief in their roles, and each other, is the alchemy that makes it all real.Reuse content