Last night was one of those nights about which us lovers of rock and roll dream. Walking up to the venue, there was a certain air about the Webster that just seemed different. Maybe it was everything that was happening over the next 24 hours. Upstairs on the main stage, The Wombats were set to play a near-capacity set. Meanwhile, 300 of us were lined up for a historic show from The Hives and it showed in the tapping toes and nervous faces on all of those queued up. And for some added atmosphere, the sidewalk was a makeshift tunnel, one side being the venue and the other the satellite trucks set up for Friday night’s Jack White show that is being directed by Gary Oldman. The air was rife with rock and roll mojo. You could taste it. For whatever reason, I refused to tell anyone that I was going to this show – I just didn’t want to say a word to anyone until my boots were touching the grimy floor of the lower level of the Webster Hall. Alas, we made it in.
The Studio at Webster Hall is a brilliant little space. For the 300-person capacity and seemingly minimal setting, the sound is surprisingly solid. I had seen many a local Brooklyn and Manhattan band play the Studio. None of those shows could prepare me, or anyone in attendance, for what was about to go down. Rumors had swirled about openers, set times, etc. It seemed pretty clear upon entry that it was all rubbish – the stage was set with gear, a Lex Chris drum kit, and a backdrop that reflected The Hives Broadcasting Service website. Doors opened at 8p.m. and we were all in by 8:45p.m. The next hour was spent in fits of anxiety, the whole crowd surveying one another while nervously singing along to garage rock classics being played through the PA.
At 9:25p.m., the curtain to the back was pulled aside and in true Hives fashion and in the spirit of the secrecy of the show, a ninja came out onto the stage to deliver guitars, booze, set lists, and the final soundcheck. At about 9:35p.m., he disappeared behind the curtain, the music faded, and then… the magic began. Drummer Chris Dangerous was the first one to grace the stage, donning the latest uniform – a tailed tuxedo, complete with top hat. Guitarist Nicholaus Arson followed, and then guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem and bassist Dr. Matt Destruction took the stage. And finally, the majordomo himself, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist. What followed would prove to be a 70-minute melee, for which none of us were prepared.
Pelle came out swinging, provoking the crowd in his trademark arrogant, yet endearing way, telling us that some humble blokes from Sweden were here to show us New Yorkers how to really rock. They opened up with a track called ‘Come On’ from their forthcoming record Lex Hives. The crowd was moving, but we clearly needed some further provocation to really get going. After Nicholaus warned us that their belief is “to never trust a crowd that doesn’t sweat”, they went straight into a personal favorite, ‘Try Again’ from the The Black & White Album and you could feel the crowd easing into the mayhem being cast upon us. It was after this track that Pelle kicked up the onstage banter for which he’s so famously known, imploring us to obey his demands, including answering ‘YEAH!’ to every question he asked, including: “What is the square root of 34?”, “What is your favorite colour?” and “Do you love The Hives more than your parents?”. After another track from Lex Hives, ‘Take Back the Toys’, they launched into “You Got it All… Wrong’, another pounder from The Black & White Album. After this Pelle told us, “Silence was not invited to this show. Even the most connected in the industry could not get silence on the guest list”, clearly not satisfied yet with our level of ruckus. Then he declared, “This next song is very likely about me”. What ensued would prove to define the course of the night. The first chords of ‘Walk Idiot Walk’ hit and like a stick of dynamite, the crowd erupted. They followed up going directly into ‘Main Offender’ and by the time the track ended, we were all a sweaty, bouncing mess of joy and youthful exuberance. This is when the night hit overdrive.
Another new track from Lex Hives followed, this one titled ‘My Time is Coming’, before they really put it to us, with a run of ‘No Pun Intended’, ‘Wait a Minute’ and ‘Won’t Be Long’, seemingly increasing the intensity with every passing minute. And we were giving it right back – dancing, bouncing and screaming out in unison. It was semi-organized chaos at its very finest. From there, Pelle took us into the staple, ‘Hate to Say I Told You So’, which was without question the craziest track of the main set. By this point, there wasn’t a single person standing where they had started the show. In fact, the crowd was moving so much, that I unintentionally, yet very fortunately, ended up within 2 feet of the stage, right under Nicholaus Arson. For the 20th time of the night, Arson turned his back to us and leaned backward, surfing the front row whilst continuing to keep the chunky riffs rocking. ‘Patrolling Days’ from Lex Hives closed out the set, introduced by Pelle telling us that this song was written for him, “because none of you is what I is… HOWLIN’ PELLE ALMQVIST!”, to which the crowd went nuts.
There was about a five to ten minute break before The Hives returned to the stage, by now down to just their tuxedo shirts and pants, having shed their jackets, hats, and ties in the melee that had preceded. The first encore was their high-powered lead single from Lex Hives, ‘Go Right Ahead’, which kept the energy running at redline levels. The gem of the night, however, was the night’s closer – a raucous, raging, chaotic, skull-smashing take on their massive track, ‘Tick Tick Boom’. After the second chorus at the break – the sort of false ending of the track – the band completely froze in place, staying absolutely still for no less than 3 minutes while we all went batshit crazy. They then broke into the riff that underscores the bridge and Pelle once again told us how it was going to be. He told the crowd to part in the middle, saying, “Eat your heart out, Moses”. Of course we obliged and Pelle made his way to the back of the room (a lengthy 20 feet from the stage) and told us that he wanted us to “crush him like an ant”, before challenging the crowd to try to catch him before he made it back to the stage. Then he launched into the bridge and hit a dead sprint before the mass collapsed upon him and in unison the crowd swayed back and forth, our fearless leader in the middle, belting out the final chorus of ‘Tick Tick Boom’. This was one of those moments that you tell people about for the rest of your life. Howlin’ Pelle, Nicholaus, Dr. Matt, Chris, and Vigilante united on stage, took a bow, and disappeared behind the curtain, leaving us all staring at each other dumbfounded, sweating profusely, desperately attempting to sort out what we could possibly do next with ourselves that would be worthy of what had just gone down. No one had an answer then. I still don’t now.
I have been to hundreds of shows, in dozens of venues, and I can say with confidence, that as far as straight up ROCK shows go… this was without question the most incredible show I have ever seen – one that I won’t soon forget and will oft attempt to relive.
The Hives are hitting the U.S. on tour this summer. Do not miss it. Tour Dates here.
Lex Hives is scheduled for a June release.
(Editor’s Note: black & white picture courtesy of Bertram Wooster – thanks man!)