Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
“We are the Hives from Sweden and you are not and there’s nothing you can do about it,” announced Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist from the tiny stage at the studio at Webster Hall. You know that scene in Star Wars where they land the Millennium Falcon on a suspiciously humid, squishy-floored planet only to discover that they are inside the gullet of a giant worm? That’s what the atmosphere was like in this tiny underground outpost beneath the Webster’s main stage. Swampy, sticky, and packed with rebels, these ones dressed in motorcycle jackets and eyeliner rather than tunics and riding boots.
Is there something in the Scandinavian DNA that results in a superhuman capacity for consistent excellence? In the better part of a decade the Hives haven’t changed their lineup, their assortment of outfits (black and white tuxedos, this evening,) or apparently even aged. They’re all in their mid-thirties, but Pelle is still a pinup. His brother, guitarist Nicholaus Arson, remains the sexy villain in a noir flick. And the rest of the guys still look like a punk rock cartoon, outsized characters with distinctive facial hair and exaggerated “I’m rocking out now” facial expressions, who also have the technical chops of musicians who’ve been playing together since they were teenagers.
The new Hives songs off the forthcoming Lex Hives are what you want them to be: lean, compact, aggressive little slivers of punk rock. And Almqvist’s signature sadomasochistic banter is as absurd and hilarious as ever:
Pelle: “A few rules: whenever I ask a question the answer is yes. What’s your favorite color?”
Pelle: “What’s your favorite John Wayne movie?”
Pelle: “Do you live Howlin’ Pelle more than you love mom and dad?”
Pelle: “Thank you. I must now blow the lid off this motherfucker.”
But in the end, the reason you open an email titled “secret Hives show,” the reason you welcome the stinky atmosphere and sketchy sound and potentially burst ear drums comes down to the full-on dopamine rush you get when you hear those first few serrated notes of “Hate to Say I Told You So.” It was the song we all waited for. And it was worth the wait.
They say you don’t really know in the moment how the art you love will age. Spin famously chose Teenage Fanclub’s Bandwagonesque over Nirvana’s Nevermind as the number one album of 1991. It’s a good record! And it seemed superior to some at the time. As we pass the ten-year anniversary of the great early 2000s releases, I find myself wondering how they all hold up. Last year’s Kings of Leon documentary started me thinking retrospectively. Then earlier this week I saw the LCD Soundsystem documentary, and though I can’t write about it yet suffice it to say that it served as a comforting reminder that it wasn’t just the ecstasy taken at all those early 2000s dance parties that made them feel epic and culturally significant. And then there was this Hives show, which I prepped for by drinking Greyhounds and listening to T-Rex at last decade’s rock and roll clubhouse, Black and White. It seems clear that 2002 is still awesome, even 10 years later.