Concert Review: Thee Attacks, The Hives @ The Phoenix, Toronto, Ontario
I first saw the Hives at V Fest in England in 2003. They wowed the large festival crowd, with singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist leading the band through a minute of a frozen stance, then re-animating through the blistering end to Main Offender. At the Phoenix in 2007, Howlin’ Pelle climbed everything he could get his hands and legs on, including the balcony at stage right. With a new album, Lex Hives, in 2012 and an opening slot for Pink (or P!nk or whatever she is called these days) in Toronto, the band found some time to bring their much hyped, high energy show back to the Phoenix on a Sunday night in Toronto.
Before we got to see the Hives, we were treated to openers Thee Attacks, with the band doing the old “We are not the Hives” introduction as they came on stage.
The Danish band play a brand of good old fashioned, hard rock n’ roll, bordering on cock rock at times. The singer rocked some right leather pants and the band definitely dress the part.
A cover of Louie Louie showed that they had a good rhythm section and were technically sound. The songs were not catchy but rocked hard. They exhibited great tempo switches at times, ala The Hives, but never developed into a memorable song structure. Nonetheless they were interesting to watch, even if they didn’t necessarily have the strongest tunes backing them.
Now, the Hives. Of the many hundreds of bands that I have seen in my life, I would put the Hives in my top 20 of all-time. Their studio albums are enjoyable, but not necessarily considered classics. Their live show is just so damn good – and enjoyable – it’s like being at a stand up comedy show at times. Singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist definitely has the front man showmanship down solid. He engages with the crowd, is cocky and confident to the point of hilarity, in part helped out by his “Englishisms”.
The band came out to Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, which for the classically uninformed is “that song from 2001: A Space Odyssey.” The twist on the song was that the horns were out of tune and playing the wrong notes. They kicked things off with the quick and dirty track Come On.
Howlin’ Pelle urged the crowd on as the Hives launched into Main Offender. Note that I should refer to the singer as Almqvist but since Howlin’ Pelle is such a cool name, that is how he will be known throughout this article. Anyway, Howlin’ Pelle did his best to set a world record for scissor kicks, jumping and performing the kicks at will. He has all the lead singer tricks, but they all seem authentic when he does them as you can tell he is having so much damn fun out there.
He noted that the band haven’t played the Phoenix in awhile, before joking that he tricked us – it was literally only a minute ago, with those first 2 songs.
After messing up the lyrics to I’m On My Way, Howlin’ Pelle used this as an opportunity to get the crowd to sing along to the beat at the end of every 4 bars.
One of the best part of the shows was the roadies, who were ninjas. No, they were literally ninjas, dressed in black martial arts attire, complete with balaclavas.
Howlin’ Pelle, who I don’t think has aged in the past decade, got the crowd to cheer various words before the band played the uptempo Die Alright. The band continued to pull out those classic rock n’ roll tricks, with the guitars being swung around their necks, drummer Chris Dangerous throwing his drum sticks high in the air, and Nicholaus Arson whipping his guitar picks across the stage, only to be caught by the NINJA ROADIES!
Try Again saw Howlin’ Pelle repeatedly do scissor kicks and other injury-inducing moves. Not bad considering his belt wasn’t functioning and his pants were barely staying up.
Besides being an extremely high energy and relentless rock assault, I cannot stress how hilariously awesome Howlin’ Pelle is. He’s so brash but undeniably loveable. Some gems before the next song were “When the Hives show up, people get excited” and “Have you seen these Mexican pants that I am wearing? They keep falling down. How is this possible? They were made to the specifications of my body!”
Howlin’ Pelle also excels at engaging the crowd. He told the crowd to put one hand in the air, and people obliged at a higher percentage than your average concert. He then asked for your other hand to go into the air. Then he got everyone to clap. Then he suggested that people jump in time with the bass. Just like that, the crowd went from clapping to jumping to Won’t Be Long, without the usual laziness of a ‘Toronto crowd.’
Howlin’ Pelle then took some questions from the crowd. A brilliant first question was the recent Internet classic “Would you rather fight 1 horse-sized duck or 100 duck-sized horses.” Howlin’ Pelle wants to fight all of them! Afterwards, there would clearly be 101 new fans of the Hives. Howlin’ Pelle also said that opening for Pink/P!nk has been interesting, as the crowds treat the Hives initially with disgust, but by the end, it’s pure ecstasy for them. And how could it not be? All of these questions led into the song 1000 answers.
Toronto fans were then treated to a rare experience – a ninja roadie playing the tambourine. This was the extra accompaniment for Walk Idiot Walk, which brought out the most crowd surfers of the night. The howls and screams were pitch perfect, and the energy levels didn’t drop throughout the song.
The next song was supposedly about returning to Toronto, and was My Time is Coming. It had a deep vocal solo intro, before whipping into a furious song with the drummer thrashing throughout.
Wait A Minute was next, with Howlin’ Pelle getting the crowd to sing along again. He liked the singing so much, he decided to join the crowd by crowd surfing over them.
Another ongoing theme of Howlin’ Pelle’s jokes were that fans of the Hives should schedule an appointment to see the band in Toronto again. He noted that they are actually in town again tomorrow, opening for Pink. The crowd predictably booed, and Howlin’ Pelle played it off as “I know you’re sad that it’s sold out, but what can I do?”
The crowd went ballastic during Hate To Say I Told You So, which closed out the 13 song regular set. The encore started off with Tic Tic Boom, which took about 10 minutes to play. The band froze in place for about half a minute after the second chorus. The band were then introduced one by one by Howlin’ Pelle during a break in the song. Howlin’ Pelle decided to get creative and asked the crowd to split in half, with his attempts at successfully splitting the crowd leading to him wandering to the very band of the crowd, mic in hand. He then had the crowd sit down. After revelling in his successes, Howlin’ Pelle ran back through the parted crowd and returned to the stage.
The penultimate song was Insane, which is how some might describe the amazing Howlin’ Pelle. After the song, the band announced it would be their last song. The boos followed, which I’ve never understood, and Howlin’ Pelle said “Boo all you like, get your hatred towards the Hives out.” I was going to throw my boots, but that might’ve crossed the line. The band closed out their set with Patrolling Days.
The Hives played 16 songs in about an hour and 15 minutes. The energy was amazing the entire night. The mood of the crowd was fantastic, all in part to
lots of booze the antics of Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist. Not enough can be said about how engaging he is. Not only is he engaging and affable, but when he sings, he’s an animal. He’s standing and climbing on things, he’s all over the stage, in the crowd, standing in places he shouldn’t be like my kitchen, and a great rock front man. Their show would be nothing without good songs, and thankfully the band have that part covered. Do yourselves a favour and buy a scalped ticket to the Pink concert Monday night, watch the Hives, and then go home early – best decision you’ll make all day.
PHM Rating for Thee Attacks: 7.0 out of 10
PHM Rating for The Hives: 9.0 out of 10