The Hives and the Donnas

(This review will also appear at the web site of the Southtown Star newspaper.)

At one point during Friday’s concert at the Riviera Theatre, Hives lead singer Pelle Almqvist asked the audience, “Is it possible this is the best live show in the history of the world?” And then, answering his own question but hedging his bets a little, he said, “It is still possible.”

Actually, the concert would not likely rank on anyone’s list of all-time bests, but the Hives did put on a good show. And with the Donnas as opening act, the concert felt like a hard-rocking co-ed double bill.

Almqvist is the sort of singer who asks crowds for constant reassurance that he and his band are fabulous. (This is a guy who calls himself Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist.) And since the Hives are a bunch of dudes from Sweden wearing what look like black-and-white prep-school uniforms, you have to wonder at times if the whole show is some sort of comedy act that might make more sense if you were from Sweden. Still, even if the whole thing is an act, the Hives do know how to rock hard and fast. Fast was the tempo all night long, as drummer Chris Dangerous somehow managed to strike dramatic poses even as he kept up a fierce tempo. Dangerous is the sort of drummer who spends a lot of time throwing drumsticks up into the air and catching them. (At one point, he failed to catch one of his sticks. His response? Toss away the other stick and wait for a roadie to bring out a new set.) Guitarist Nicholaus Arson, with a rockabilly haircut, extended his guitar out toward the audience while Almqvist ran back and forth with manic energy.

All of this showmanship was in the service of some simple but effective garage-punk songs, with loud, crunchy guitar chords and shouted vocals. The Hives’ problem is that their songs all sound too similar, but it isn’t a bad formula, and on songs with catchy choruses like “Main Offender” and “Two-Timing Touch and Broken Bones,” the power of the Hives could not be denied. Toward the end of the show, Almqvist was still reminding audience members who was onstage, as if they needed reminding. “We are the Hives,” he said, “still standing.”

See my photos of the Hives.

If the Hives are very self-aware, the Donnas seem to lack any similar sense of irony. They just play hard rock, straight up without any jokiness, cranking out loud tunes that straddle the line between pop and heavy metal. At times on Friday night, the Donnas sounded like they might slip at any second into a Bon Jovi or Mötley Crüe cover, but they stuck with their original material, including one chorus that stated the obvious conclusion anyone would arrive at from watching the Donnas: “Girls rock!” Like the Hives, the Donnas act like real rock stars. While Brett Anderson roamed the stage in her sleeveless Harley-Davidson T-shirt, Allison Robertson let her long blonde hair fly like some 1980s guitar god – make that guitar goddess.

See my photos of the Donnas.

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