Walking into the Independent on Friday night, the first thing audience members saw were signs titled “A Note From Savages.” These postings read, “Our goal is to discover better ways of living and experiencing music. We believe that the use of phones to film and take pictures during a gig prevents all of us from totally immersing ourselves. Let’s make this evening special. Silence your phones.” It was just the first indication that this was going to be an exceptional night.
Just before Savages took the stage for the first of two sold-out shows, the energy in the room vibrated with a palpable hum, resonating above the droning ambient music pulsing from the speakers.
In nearly complete darkness, Savages quietly took their places on stage before launching into “I Am Here,” the killer second track off of their debut record Silence Yourself.
Dressed in all black and barely lit by dim white lights, the four women of the London post-punk outfit bobbed and thrashed with a spectral intensity through the first three songs (also the first three songs off Silence Yourself) without saying a word or pausing for breath. Singer Jehnny Beth, howling like a deliciously demonic cross-pollination of Patti Smith and Nick Cave, dominated the stage in gold slingback stilettos, looking fiercely feminine bouncing around in a power stance.
The band’s performance style was stark and understated, but with a searing intensity that was breathtaking in its relentlessness. Beth spoke fewer than five times throughout the entire show, but the lack of filler just added to the force of the band’s immense presence. Savages have no weak links. Each woman is an incredible musician and performer. Even drummer Fay Milton, at the rear of the stage, demanded attention through her focused talent and tangible joy.
The audience stood in quiet reverence through the first half of the set, standing stationary and gaping with open mouths at the tour de force on stage. Finally, around the time that Savages played a cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” people began to move around toward the front of the crowd, bouncing off of each other to the scorching rendition. Beth looked down upon the opening pit with glee, speaking for the first time in her thick French accent, “Here we are! I was waiting for you! Fucking awesome.”
Savages are a welcome reminder of the importance and potency of female bands. Just by virtue of their kicking-ass-and-taking-names existence, they stand for so much more. Rock and roll is still a boys’ club. There is a huge difference between bands that have a female singer or a female guitarist and bands that are fully female. Savages offer an empowering and much-needed message that women can rock, and not just in supporting roles.
Of course they are not the only women in rock, but seeing them dominating the stage and selling out performances is truly exciting. Just by being silently and consistently amazing at what they do, these four women are bringing a feminist lens to post-punk, and for that, my female-identifying compatriots and I are extremely grateful. Nothing is more affirming than seeing your own identity reflected in a sphere that it is usually shut out of.
“San Francisco, you deserve more” Beth wailed before bringing out an extra guitarist and a saxophone player. “We’re gonna play a song called ‘Fuckers.’ We’re gonna use it as a mantra. Some words do heal.” As the band began to churn out the opening chords, Beth continued, “these were words given to me by a friend. I’m gonna give it back to you and you’re gonna give it to a friend. Don’t let the fuckers get you down!”
After the final song, Silence Yourself sendoff “Marshal Dear,” the crowd was left speechless. The weight of the performance was a physical, tangible entity as people regrouped and began, reluctantly, to exit. Though starkly different than the crackling energy in the moments before the show, the moments after the show were just as dynamic, basking in the afterglow of an amazing performance and the discovery of an exceptional band.