Tame on record, Sweden's Hives erupt onstage


July 28, 2004

BY JIM DeROGATIS Pop Music Critic

Some of the wildest musical explosions just don't translate on record: free-jazz skronk-fests, full-throttle psychedelic freak-outs and, in some cases, garage-rock eruptions.

The Hives' recently released third album, "Tyrannosaurus Hives," really doesn't do justice to the manic energy that the Swedish quintet evinces onstage. To fully appreciate the distinctive charms of this nattily dressed group, you had to witness its sold-out show at Metro on Monday night.

The secret of the Hives' success can be found in the twin high-pressure fronts of twentysomething singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist -- he of the wild bug eyes, Malcolm McDowell in "A Clockwork Orange" intensity and "James Brown Live at the Apollo" stage moves -- and his Telecaster-wielding brother Nicholaus Arson, the group's primary songwriter (despite its cute mythology of a mysterious mentor named Randy Fitzsimmons).









When these two collide, it's impossible to avoid a storm of hurricane intensity.

The brothers Almqvist spent much of the group's white-hot 60-minute set walking atop the crowd barrier or throwing themselves into the arms of their adoring fans. The rest of the time, in between the musical gales, Nicholaus blew on his fingertips to cool them down after the fiery frenzy of his rhythmic chords, and Howlin' Pelle cracked wise with the defiant swagger, preening strut and egomaniacal self-assurance of the 24-year-old Mick Jagger.

On their albums, the Hives fall short because too many of their under-three-minutes, R&B-tinged barn-burners lack the indelible melodies of the best vintage garage-rock anthems. Only "Main Offender" and the new single "Walk Idiot Walk" can really hold their own beside timeless American nuggets such as "Pushin' Too Hard," "You're Gonna Miss Me" or "Liar, Liar."

In concert, though, this shortcoming hardly mattered as the musicians ran two or three songs together at a time, firing off their garage rock by the numbers like a hail of machinegun bullets, and shifting rhythms with a machinelike precision as they sweated through their spiffy white jackets, black satin shirts and ivory neckties.

While the Almqvists vie for the girls' adulation and the boys' envy, their fellow Hives also deserve to be singled out. Drummer Chris Dangerous slammed his minimalist set like a piledriver, but with just a hint of soulful swing. And while second guitarist Vigilante Carlstroem and bassist Matt Destruction looked like Swedish bakers or Saab auto mechanics, they rivaled the mighty Fleshtones for their garage-rock chops.

"America, you have been looking for your weapon of mass destruction -- well here it is!" Pelle shouted as he gave the balding, mustachioed Destruction a brief bass solo.

While the Hives' boundless energy demands attention despite their lack of songwriting, few other garage bands are quite as lucky, including the evening's openers.

Sweden's Sahara Hotnights added a touch of '70s New Wave and '80s power-pop to its mix --think of the Runaways or early punk-rock Go-Go's -- but aside from being a female quartet, it had little else to set it apart. And the Memphis trio the Reigning Sound was even more generic.

There are a dozen Chicago garage-rock bands -- the Redwalls chief among them -- that would have been more deserving of the high-profile opening slot.