Some people might be incredulous at hearing a tiny garage band from Fagersta (a little northwest of Stockholm) touted as the saviors of rock and roll on both sides of the Atlantic, but Howliní Pelle Almqvist, the rubber-necking, peacock-strutting frontman of the Hives, isnít one of them. For the past two years, heís been proclaiming to anyone who will listen that the Hives are everyoneís new favorite band. Less than a year ago, when the Hives flew in from a UK television appearance and straightway took the stage of the Middle East as the first band on out of four, Pelle appeared as bored with the crowd of unsuspecting indie-rockers as they were with him, but he nonetheless impressed upon them the gravity of the situation: the Hives were going to take over the world whether they liked it or not, so they might as well get used to the idea. Between each song, heíd make them shout "HIVES!" until it was loud enough to meet with his approval. Then heíd go on.
A week ago last Tuesday night at the Roxy, the same Hives returned, with their two-year-old album Veni Vidi Vicious reissued by Warner Bros., a single in heavy rotation at metal-dominated modern-rock radio, and press adoration eclipsing that afforded the White Stripes and the Strokes combined. Hate to say they told you so. "Sold my body to the company store/I got the money now away I go/I say ĎThank you, Mr. CEO,í " Pelle sang on the setís sixth song, "Die, All Right." Thank you, indeed: the bigger the Hives get, the less impressed they seem to be with themselves. After all, they told us they would accomplish the impossible; itís not their fault you thought they were kidding.
As for their set: they came, they saw, and, well . . . inasmuch as theyíd already proclaimed their conquest, showing up again would have to suffice. The Hives are fond of making a pun by conflating the words "trouble" and "treble" (as in, "here comes treble"); Nirvana had distortion, but for the Hives in 2002 in a world ruled by new metal, itís the sharp, clean, penetrating tone of the guitars that sets them apart from everyone else. At the Roxy, the sound system sheared off the high end and left them with a dulled vibrato, which is akin to declawing a cat; they compensated by playing faster than on disc, but that was really a bit too fast even for them.
It scarcely mattered. Pelle is a more charismatic frontman in his second language than most Americans are in their first; his routine ó his act, if you will ó is in taking pity on the poor souls who have to put up with such inferior rock and roll as takes place when he isnít around. "Okay, you student bastards," he said stoically, as if reading a proclamation. "We got a song for all you people who think this is an institute of higher learning. Iíll teach you something right now: you donít know jack." Then they played a brilliant song called "Main Offender," and Pelle closed it blowing kisses. He launched into another long, funny diatribe about America and radio and cigarettes, and somebody shouted something at him. "Shut up, small person," he said. "Iím trying to entertain 2000 people. And Iím doing a damned good job of it!" Duly noted.