Savages deserve a break – they say goodbye (for a while) at Brixton Academy

2016 was a year of Savages' no-nonsense, visceral punk shows

By the time most bands make it to headlining a venue the size of Brixton Academy they view it as an opportunity to upgrade; to spend a bit of cash, bring in a flashy video screen, maybe a couple of CO2 cannons. Savages began 2016 by introducing their second album, ‘Adore Life’, to 200 people at an 8am breakfast show in the cramped confines of the 100 Club buried beneath Oxford Street. Ten months later, with barely a day off in between, they finished it by bringing almost exactly the same show to 5,000 people at this famous theatre.

This evening there’s no backdrop, no gimmicks, little fanfare, just Jehnny Beth, Gemma Thompson, Fay Milton and Ayse Hassan performing in the same way they’d approach playing the pub next door.

It’s that undiluted intensity Savages summon that sets them apart, and it’s a trick they’ve repeated many times this year. They’ve been on such consistently formidable form, it felt almost cruel to have a band try to follow them at festivals like Primavera Sound back in June or End of the Road in September.

And, in a year where the music world has seen more than a couple of low points, the London band seem to have always been there as some kind of antidote; a release, an angry communal meeting of minds. They make a nod to one of those moments tonight – one of those departed legends, Leonard Cohen, by walking on stage to ‘Recitation’.

So it feels like a loss, then, when Jehnny Beth announces that this is their “last show for a while”. Any melancholy is soon scorched away as they open with ‘I Am Here’. They race through things. ‘Surrender’, ‘Shut Up’ and, the exceptional, ‘Husbands’ all sound impeccable. Savages, as has always been the case, strike the balance between sounding fast, furious, tight but also somehow permanently on edge.

In a set that’s pure power, the only time the ferocity pauses is for Jehnny Beth to talk about the influence of Marianne Faithfull towards the close of the night. With dry ice drifting across the stage and framed in two stark spotlights Beth performs ‘Why’d Ya Do It?’ accompanied by guitarist Gemma Thompson. It’s a touching moment that’s also still combative as Beth spits out the words: “I had my balls and the brains put into a vice/ And twisted around for a whole fucking week.”

Following that, ‘Mechanics’ and ‘Adore’ are both performed with an intensity of a group knowing they won’t play them again for a while. They close with ‘Fuckers’ as members of support band Good Bad Happy Sad (Mica Levi’s latest project) pour on stage to add layers of percussion and electronics. It ends in a hail of strobes, searing feedback and Jehnny Beth walking on the hands of the crowd before falling back into their arms. They reconvene, stand in a line and take a bow.

Brixton Academy, 25 November 2017