By Mark Guarino
In case the red neon sign declaring the band’s name wasn’t a tip-off, in case the lead singer’s incessant declarations of greatness weren’t enough, in case the crowd didn’t let it slip by obediently following the singer’s every instruction, the point was made extremely clear:
The Hives played Metro Monday. And it was pretty great.
The band, from Sweden, is on a roll, on tour with a follow-up to their major label debut declaring them the next greatest thing in rock and a welcome new direction away from the wasteland of alternative metal.
So far, only a slim handful of bands from two years ago, the White Stripes included, can continue to make that claim. The Hives play songs that are all exclamation marks — fast, short, catchy, insolent and very, very funny.
Dressed in formal wear that makes them look they should be playing a Wisconsin supper club, the Hives sounded as fresh as their look. They songs they played — 17 in under an hour — follow the same blueprint of former punk primitives Iggy and the Stooges and the Ramones. The difference is in presentation. While Iggy Pop clawed for a return to rock’s rudiments through self-loathing and violence, and the Ramones disguised themselves behind shaggy hair and leather, the Hives showed that a band can strip a song to its most savage essentials and still have the refined poise of Fred Astaire.
Songs from their new album “Tyrannosaurus Hives” (Interscope) sounded louder, faster and better crafted than the older songs, some four years old. Sinister, strutting guitar riffs from Vigilante Carlstroem drove every song, which featured gang sung choruses and lyrics that generously mocked any contrivance smaller than the song itself. “See the robot walk/see the robot talk/see the robot write up his name on the ballot!” went one group chorus (“Walk Idiot Walk”).
The band worked in sync perfectly, allowing nothing to snag the momentum. There was restlessless and little introspection as the band released more energy in three minutes than most bands can muster in two hours.
Much credit was due to singer Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, a bug-eyed incarnation of the late voodoo rocker Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Part preacher, part used car dealer, Almqvist delivered one liners all night. “I want to see your face before we kick your (expletive) with rock and roll,” he said.
But even with a smirk, his wailing voice rattled the rafters leaving little room for argument.