Savages kicked off the first of two sold out shows at The Independent on Friday with opener Duke Garwood. Outside the venue, signs and security stressed a strict “no cell phones” policy during Savages’ performance. Savages want you to be fully immersed in their art, and while security proved to be relatively lenient in this regard, it goes to show that this band means business.
I’m not sure I’ve ever been less familiar with an opener for a sold out show at The Indy, with London based multi-instrumentalist Duke Garwood and his bassist John Hostile setting the stage. Garwood, who played clarinet on Savages’ album Silence Yourself, played a half-hour set, alternating between guitar and alto clarinet while Hostile played electric bass guitar and kicked the occasional drum machine trigger. The duo gave off a dark and rustic, yet modern blues feel with Garwood’s deep vocals and often eerie clarinet. Savages vocalist Jehnny Beth (real name Camille Berthomier) provided backup vocals for the duo’s final song, offering a preview of her serpentine swagger.
London’s all-female post-punk quartet Savages hit the stage hard with standard openers “I Am Here”, “City’s Full”, and “Shut Up”. All four members were dressed head to toe in solid black, save Beth’s shiny gold shoes. The formidable French-born frontwoman led “I Need Something New” with a spoken intro, followed by “Strife” and “Waiting For a Sign”.
While Beth certainly commands the most attention with her strong vocals and gestures (lots of pointing and “come hither” motions), perhaps drummer Fay Milton is the real hero of the band, despite being its newest member. With Milton holding down the percussion section with taught precision, founding guitarist Gemma Thompson and bass player Ayse Hassan patiently plowed through the set with comparable intensity.
Beth introduced a surprising cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”, followed by early single “Flying to Berlin” and Silence Yourself standout “She Will”. It wasn’t until the next set of songs (cut from the album’s climax), however, that the energy of the crowd expanded beyond the fifteen-or-so souls stationed front-and-center. Things took a dramatic shift when the band launched into the opening riff of “No Face”, which finally got the crowd moving.
“I was waiting for you!” Beth yelled at the end of the song, genuinely enthused by the crowd’s delayed reaction. “Look at you…fucking awesome!” the singer marveled, before whispering a tease of the “Husbands” mantra as an intro to “Hit Me”. By this point, the center crowd had erupted into a certifiable mosh pit, if only for a moment. The energy was maintained through “Husbands”, with Beth milking the impact out of this early favorite by saying, “I want to take my time here.” The singer focused most of her attention her front-and-center fans who had remained loyal through the duration of the set.
While this would have been a satisfying finale, Beth said, “San Francisco, you deserve more!” and welcomed two “special guests” on stage, naturally being Duke Garwood and John Hostile of the opening act. The six-piece group performed an impressive extended version of “Fuckers”, after Beth explained that her “Don’t let the fuckers get you down” mantra came from advice passed on to her from a friend. As the clock approached midnight, Hostile went backstage and Beth said, “Alright, this is the end”, sitting down to play piano on the quiet closer “Marshall Dear”.
Savages did it all over again on Sunday, presumably without losing an ounce of intensity. Watch the new video for “Husbands” below.