The Hives and Mooney Suzuki Remind You That Life Is A Gas
It’s an all-ages 7:15 on a Wednesday night inside Chicago’s Metro. The Mooney Suzuki’s gear sits coiled on stage. A quick glance away from front-of-house, and you miss them: The Suzuki, four guys dressed like Batman villains who’ve suddenly appeared behind their instruments. The drummer is standing on his kit. And lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, Ben Stiller lookalike, and principle rabble-rouser Sammy James, Jr is strutting around the stage, pointing out potential rockers in the audience. The double-time beat drops, and all of sudden there are four guys on stage singing a song about today, about right now, about this moment, and it’s rock and roll. And you wonder: why isn’t this happening all the time?
To paraphrase the Suzuki, it’s a tough old world. A little bit is music, but the rest is hoops. But when rock and roll happens with the ferocity of what occurred at last night’s gathering of like-minded peppermint twisters, you wonder about when rock and roll will finally, completely, take over the world. It would replace parking tickets with concert tickets. Every day would be Saturday night. And no one would ever place a cover sheet over a TPS report again. This is the sort of world that the Mooney Suzuki and The Hives live in. Unfortunately, we can only stay for a short time – then it’s back to a world without black suits and white neckties.
New York City’s Mooney Suzuki didn’t invent the toe-tap, but if Sammy James said they did, you’d believe him. Because you can’t help but tap the toe or stomp the foot when James and his band downshifts into “Half My Heart,” or “Electric Sweat.” It’s the kind of rock music that the phrase “let your backbone slip” was invented to describe. Sure, 90% of it is two chords, and James’ lyric book consists mostly of “Alright!” and “Okay!” So what? No one ever said that rock needed to be complicated. That’s the great thing about the Suzuki or their nattily-attired counterparts in The Hives. They realize, like so many other rockers out there, that music might have been better when it was recorded in a two-track studio behind the five and dime. In many ways, the emergence of “The New Garage” is the popular awareness of this. The Hives’ “Hate To Say I Told You So” will sound better than the boring alternative crap that surrounds it on your local radio station because it doesn’t get in the way of itself with goofy production techniques or a goddamn flugel horn overdub. And it doesn’t hurt that they’re from Sweden.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are now living in The United States of The Hives!”
Pelle Almqvist has just harangued the capacity crowd for the first time. By now it’s 9:15 at the Metro. The Hives are slated to finish their set by 10:00, so you imagine that Almqvist – tall, reminding some of a young (Swedish) Gram Parsons – better get on with it. But The Hives can play 50 songs in 45 minutes, and each one would snap your neck. So you can give Almqvist and his constant monologue a break. The lightbulb’d “HIVES” sign hanging before an enormous, black and white Stars and Stripes blinks on, and suddenly Nicholaus Arson is doing the robot with his Telecaster, heltering and skeltering until the angles that compose his body mesh with the sharp lines of The Hives’ take on 1960s mojo. Almqvist is climbing the light rig, his white leather topsiders gleaming in the blinking “HIVES” light. That “Whadjapay?” guy is pounding away at his white SG. And you find yourself and the crowd surrounding you to be in a united state of mind.
It’s a tough old world. Especially when it’s 10:30 and you’re standing outside the club, scratching your head. It’s disorienting enough to see rock and roll so early. But when the rock itself is of the world-shaking variety, what then? The Mooney Suzuki and The Hives present the soundtrack to that rock and roll Erehwon that dissolves upon contact with the outside pavement. Until rock and roll does take over the rest of our lives – when girls will always play lead guitar, nobody’s hair will be clean, and ascots’ll be back in fashion – we need rockers like these groups. We need them to remind us that our lives aren’t just about the lovers, buggers and thieves; that sometimes, even when the sets are short, we can jump off our observation deck into a world where rock and roll is king.