Paganini Ballroom, Brighton – 8th November 2012

Well, we've seen bands in some strange places over the years, but we've never had to worry about the soft furnishings before. And we've never been to a venue where the doorman directs you up the stairs, through a maze of lushly carpeted corridors to the ballroom where Niccolò Paganini gave a famous violin recital in 1831. We're not sure what old Nic would have made of entertainment twenty-first century style, but no doubt he would have approved of the décor in the newly refurbished Old Ship Hotel which in the Regency period contained Brighton's renowned assembly rooms. Elegant wallpaper, plush drapery, moulded plaster ceilings, an elaborate gallery, candelabras and stylish carpeting seemed somehow incongruous with the foot-high stage stuck at one end of the room and its small stack of speakers and amps. But days change. Savages had come to town and we were ready to have a ball.

Following a highly promising set from Manchester's Pins, full of spiky guitars and languorous basslines, Savages walk on to the stage and, as if befitting the surroundings, Gemma Thompson sports a t-shirt featuring the face of Elvis, the king in his palace at last. The guitarist gets the set underway, thrashing through the introduction to 'City's Full' before the band ignite in familiar style. Thompson remains a picture of studied indifference. Focussed on her instruments and a myriad of pedals, she barely lifts her head, giving no indication that anything exists but the glorious racket she sends screaming into the night. Not a bead of sweat, not a sign of effort, absolutely no trace of emotion; she will walk off the stage as she arrived, as if she had just bought a train ticket to Derby and forgotten to say thank you. Let's face it, this takes some effort; it's not easy to be that cool. Savages know what they want to achieve and have pretty damn near perfected the art. Only briefly does the mask drop. Fay Milton must be one of the most satisfying drummers to watch, graceful in her brutality, eyes fixed on the mark, and punishingly accurate. Only during 'Shut Up' she starts to grin, cracking through the band's painfully constructed icy veneer, and it's wonderful to see. She's loving this and though she looks tired enough to drop dead at the end of it all, it's a satisfying moment of warmth. On stage right bassist Ayse Hassan is the complete opposite to the aloof Thompson. Barely opening her eyes all set, she bops about the stage, driving the music on with inexorable force, lost in the glory of it all. As always she is the powerhouse, head to toe in black and half hidden in the darkness, for Savages' answer to the tricky question of how to light a venue such as this is not to bother. Two pale uplights on the curtains behind the stage suffice until two-thirds of the way through the set when Jehnny Beth asks for spotlights to be fired up and the set ends in a blaze of glory.

The singer herself continues to grow. There are no weak links in this band and her vocals are the perfect frame to the structured chaos her mates produce. But now she moves better, smoothly flowing with the music, standing first to the right, then left; continually shifting her focus and attack. A momentary hesitation while the audience have their say before 'Flying to Berlin' (a "happy song" about dying in a plane crash) is a long silence for a Savages gig. But it's a fleeting stutter and the band are quickly back on the rails and steaming towards the customary endgame of 'Husbands'.

What's next for Savages? 2012 has been a fantastic year for them and now they can sell out a venue as large as the Paganini Ballroom. This is no mean achievement, but they are certainly approaching a crossroads. Is the album in the pipeline or are they content to continue building on their live successes? For how long can they maintain this quality, this potency and this drive? One thing is for certain, they have everything any great band needs, and more. We couldn't begin to count the number of acts we have seen over the past years … but it must run into thousands. And we would struggle to name many better live than Savages. And as the Paganini Ballroom shakes to their particular brand of magic, we can't think of anywhere on earth we would rather be.

We're just glad we don't have to do the hoovering.

Gemma Thompson 1
Gemma Thompson 2

More Live Reviews

Savages Husbands

Savages I Am Here

Savages The Haunt

Savages Queen Elizabeth Hall

Photos: Gary Packham

Savages at the Paganini
savages ticket
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