I fell for Savages’ debut, Silence Yourself, as soon as the knotty, groovy ostinato of Ayse Hassan’s bass eclipsed Gena Rowlands testy silence (in a clip from Cassavetes’ Opening Night) in answer to the question: “I’m 65. How old are you?” It’s as if the song – the entire record – is some sort of rejoinder: the chiaroscuro photo on the album cover reveals that while the four women who make up Savages are some distance from retirement age, they want nothing to do with the day-glo skin-bearing that signifies youth in pop music. You couldn’t ask for more from a record: sinuous, sexy, disquietingly political. I went to see their first Boston show, at the Middle East Underground, and came away a sweaty, wild-eyed true believer.
It has taken me longer to warm to Savages’ new record, Adore Life. The record (in accordance with the multiple manifestos posted on their website) wears its heart on its sleeve, championing love and the fully-lived life, so much so that without Jehnny Beth’s arch delivery and Gemma Thompson’s squalling guitars it might easily turn preachy. But it turns out I was missing an essential piece of the puzzle. Adore Life is like a recording of a Wagnerian opera – the depth of feeling sounds overwrought divorced from the dramatic intensity and utter conviction of performance.
If the Savages of Silence Yourself were easy to caricature as art-house Joy Division-wannabes (black and white color scheme and all), the new songs reveal the thumping heart underneath the exquisite poise. Jehnny Beth is a force of nature – from the second she hits the stage she is in perpetual prowling motion, eyes glittering, her gestures as pronounced and emphatic as kabuki on speed. On “Sad Person,” Beth mocks someone a lot like the dour goth she resembles, challenging “I’m not going to hurt you / Because I’m flirting with you / I’m not going to hurt myself / So what else, what else, what else?”
You see, the truth is I can’t think of the last time I saw a band as straight-up sexy as Savages, and I’m not even talking about Beth’s midriff, bare under her black bomber jacket. I’m talking about the band’s livid intelligence and kinetic charisma: Fay Milton beating the living daylights out of her cymbal on “She Will”; the slowburning torchsong that is set-closing “Fuckers.” Of their 22 original songs, Savages played 18, in a helter skelter cathartic rush that left no time for an encore break. Like Gena Rowlands, Savages are going to be around for a long, long time.