While I’m waiting for Savages to appear on the Laneway stage, I spot a someone wearing a wedding dress. dancing wildly to Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’. But before I can ask her if the outfit is an ironic comment on contemporary gender relations inspired by the band’s keenly-thought out sexual politics, we are separated by a surge of people desperate for a hit of Savages’ live power.
Savages’ ‘Manifesto #1’ states that their intention is to “create a sound, indestructible, musically solid, written for the stage”. True their promise, it’s a visceral show, the band’s tough sound filling the large Laneway tent easily. Drummer Fay Milton and bassist Ayse Hassan lay down propulsive, urgent beats to get the crowd moving. ‘Flight to Berlin’ sees Gemma Thompson’s scratchy, trebly guitar figures lock into these rhythms to make a Gang of Four-inspired post-punk party cocktail.
Elsewhere she coaxes waves of feedback and noise from her guitar, a counterpoint to singer Jehnny Beth’s intensely delivered vocals, all stretched vowels, yelps and shrieks. ‘She Will’ is a particular highlight, Beth’s furious repetition of the title phrase given increasing intensity by Milton’s frenzied cymbal clobbering.
The band, dressed head to toe in coordinated black ensembles, don’t talk much. Their concentration is palpable, and the audience is mesmerised, heads nodding intently as the songs hit us in a tumult. Yet Hassan’s insouciant moves and the occasional ghost of a grin from Jehnny Beth hint that they’re enjoying themselves. Meanwhile, swathes of dry ice do everything they can to make us forget that it is a summer afternoon outside.
“We are Savages,” deadpans Jehnny Beth, in case we hadn’t realised, before their final song, a powerhouse rendition of ‘Husband’. It’s a great performance, one which can only increase Savage’s standing as a class act who are just hitting their creative stride. Afterwards, the crowd is slow to leave the tent, still high from the show’s energy. I just hope my comrade in the wedding dress stayed long enough to see it.