September 11, 2012
When we first learned the The Hives were stepping out of their American touring hiatus and coming to Orange County, we couldn't wait to hear their signature audience engaging, garage rock/punk band sound. Currently promoting their self-produced studio release Lex Hives, the title coming from the Roman term meaning "Law of the Hives," we were anxious to join this Hives Nation and channel our inner punk rocker, crowd surfing fan who just doesn't give a fuck!
The Observatory, known for being an intimate venue with a quality sound system and security that lets performers and audiences engage each other pretty unrestricted, was the perfect place for one of rock's best live acts to unleash all their greatness. Lead vocalist Howlin' Pelle Almqvist leaped onto speakers, jived as he thrusted his mic stand and shouted into his microphone with jokes and banter in typical Hives fashion. His brother guitarist Nicholaus Arson followed suit - literally as all band members were dressed in penguin like tuxedos with top hats and shiny shoes - with similar stage antics which lasted throughout the entire 90-minute set.
"It took a long time to make this album," yelled Almqvist in what seemed less like a Swede accent and more like an over-the-top ventriloquist. "This next song is about this night exactly," he said as he began singing the deep mysterious lyrics of "My Time is Coming." The crowd sang along hands in the air praising the heavens, after all they've waited years for the Hives return. As the bass kick of the hard hitting drums and elongated guitar riffs continued, those in the pit where having the time of their lives moshing each other to no avail. But they weren't the only ones, everywhere you looked the audience was shaking their hands in the air and jumping up and down. Even the security guards caught on to The Hives electrifying on stage presence and energy as they bobbed their heads a little.
Playing songs like "Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones" and "Walk Idiot Walk" from 2004's Tyrannosaurus Hives they manged to reel us in and keep us entertained with their catchy-yet-defiant hooks, precise musicality, hilarious banter and by far the best dance moves we've seen out there. We sang along to the lyrics "they say this is all you need to get by... the truth is baby, it's lie-ie-ie-ie" like if we were the Rolling Stones along with everyone else sweating their asses off in the ridiculously crowded room. Vigilante Carlstroem on guitars, Dr. Matt Destruction on bass and Chris Dangerous on drums also interacted with the sarcastically arrogant brothers and helped exaggerate the jokes as Almqvist told the audience to "Observe this Santa Ana!"
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Their sound fused seamlessly with each other on the crazed choruses of "Hate to Say I Told You So," from 2009's Your New Favourite Band, the song that ultimately put them in the mainstream limelight. Their shameless expertise didn't go unnoticed, "Have you seen some good rock and roll tonight?" Almqvist yelled at the audience. "It's a rhetorical question," he laughed. Hell ya we saw some good rock-n-roll filled with absurd stories, hand-clapping, prances, scissor kicks and instruments being thrown into the crowd. They came back to do three more songs for the encore which included the crowd stepping off to the sides, as if parting the red sea, for Almqvist to step down into the audience to finish the end of "Tick, Tick, Boom" from 2007's The Black and White Album. It was the perfect grand finale to such a dynamic evening.
Critical Bias: Though I normally cover dance music festivals and shows it was refreshing to hear some bad ass guitar riffs, drums and vocals that reminded me of my rebellious teenager hay days.
The Crowd: From the old punk rock fans (yes white hair and all) to the pre-teens falling in love with the madness.
Overheard: I could barely hear my own voice, let alone anyone next to me over the exaggerated vocals and outstanding instruments.
Random Notebook Dump: I was excited to hear all the old classics, but was also pleasantly surprised that the new Lex Hives songs sound just as impressive and even more awesome live.