Each week, Lizzy Goodman guides you through the dirty streets of rock and roll.
I’m writing a book. It’s an oral history of rock and roll in New York City from 2001-2011, a sequel of sorts to the classic oral history of ’70s punk Please Kill Me. I’ve been working on it for a while, talking to artists who rose up in the early 2000s in New York, like the Strokes and Interpol, as well as to those who came a bit later in the narrative, like Vampire Weekend. A topic that keeps coming up in these conversations is the origin of originality, if that makes sense. When you’re asking people how it felt to be in the room when the Strokes played their now legendary residency at the Mercury Lounge in December of 2000, or what it was like watching Vampire Weekend play at Saint A’s on the Columbia campus in 2006, they all say the same thing: we knew something was happening but we didn’t know what it was. So how does that work, exactly? How does something new begin? And how do you know it when you see it?
You just do. That feeling — the spine-tingling, butterflies-in-the-stomach, visceral thrill you get when something connects — is really a combination of two seemingly contrasting emotions: familiarity and novelty. When you hear a great new band or see a painting that moves you or watch a film that makes an impact the feeling is one of both awe — How the hell did they do this? And intimacy — I know exactly what they mean.
I had that feeling for the first time in a while the other night at the Savages show in Williamsburg. This is the all-girl post-punk band from London who formed only last year and have been busy whipping the notoriously easily frothed UK press into a state of apoplexy. Though I don’t like to admit it, the years I’ve spent rock-show-going have left me slightly more skeptical than when I started and I’m less eager to jump on the hype bandwagon than I used to be. I was feeling a little rundown, totally over winter, and just kind of listless and prematurely geriatric as I fought the arctic east river gusts to Music Hall to catch this show. I was thinking about the clean sheets and two warm basset hounds waiting for me at home when the band took the stage. Forty-five minutes later it was like they’d given me one of those infamous B-12 shots Jim Carroll was so fond of; I was renewed.
This is the kind of band you wait for. I don’t know where it will go next or whether they will be able to translate what I saw onstage in a studio setting, but I do know that this was one of the best rock shows I’ve seen in years.
The things I’m supposed to say in this part of any piece about a new artist:
Sounds like: all-girl Joy Division — I am usually against such easy rock shorthand but in this case the cliché is a cliché because it’s true; they really sound like a femme Joy Division, which is in some ways more exciting than actual Joy Division because the Mancunian’s signature urgent melancholy is both softened and made more potent by the fact that you’ve got four girls onstage refurbishing it.
Looks like: all-girl Joy Division. I know … but seriously! From the smoke-machine atmospherics to the slender all black-adorned silhouettes to the fact that both Ian Curtis and Savages frontwoman Jehnny Beth both wear (wore) their hair like Joan of Arc, the similarities really are uncanny.
Listen to: “I Am Here.” Everyone likes the debut single, “Husbands” but the brute impoliteness of this track is what’s so right about this band.
X-Factor: Fay Milton, the drummer. She scares the shit out of me, in the best way.
I’ve mentioned before that my pet peeve is rock stars who pretend not to want it. I have no patience for the theatrical hand-wringing of faux demure bands claiming they are just here to play music. If you get on a stage with a guitar you want to be a rock star. End of story. With that in mind, perhaps my favorite thing about Savages is how complete their ethos is. They have a sound, they have a look, but they also have an idea about what they want from all of this and they have no qualms about expressing it. “Saves is not trying to give you something you didn’t have already, it is calling within yourself something you buried ages ago,” reads the mission statement on the homepage of their web site. “It is an attempt to reveal and reconnect your physical and emotional self and give you the urge to experience your life differently … like a punch in the face.” As my friend Sarah Lewitinn, aka Ultragrrrl said mid-set: “You know what’s wrong with this band? Nothing.”