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Dave Roepke, Published May 20 2008

Concert review: Hives' strut grabs small crowd

If a band rocks in a club and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

Yes, The Hives showed at The Venue at The Hub on Monday night, where they blew away an audience of 303 people – what has to be one of the smallest crowds they’ll play for this year.

With The Hives, a garage-rock five-piece from Sweden, it’s an understatement to say they’re “playing for” a crowd. After catching a little more than the first half of a set expected to be 90 minutes, I would say its the most audience-attentive act I’ve ever seen outside a bar setting.

The band – particularly frontman Pelle Almqvist and his brother, lead guitarist Nichoulas Arson – works a room like they’re getting paid on an applause commission, always mugging or moving or both.

Arson was athletic, dashing around the stage in between blistering licks. Almqvist chatted at length between songs, at one point noting after “Hate to Say I Told You So” that given the high level of Swedish heritage in the area, he could “feel in my bones that I am your genetic forefather” and promising the crowd “some serious lovemaking” after “Walk Idiot Walk.” When he wasn’t twirling his microphone like a grappling hook, he was going so far off stage that he came to the end of the cord.

The rest of the guys laid down a thundering, clockwork bottom end that gave the charmers at the front of the stage the propulsive energy from which to build.

The self-conscious rock-star acting plays well with The Hives’ relentless punk, equal parts polished and raw. The bulk of the band’s catalog is short little bundles of knowing friskiness – the musical embodiment of a wink combined with an eyebrow arch. Good stuff.

But they’ve got the smirking sledgehammer bit down so well, the songs can start to run together. This could be why Almqvist announced the name of every last track before they launched in to each. Or maybe he just loves talking so much he can’t help it. Either way, the antics and constant showmanship add a lot to what you could get from The Hives in recorded form.

It’s just a shame more people didn’t get to figure that out for themselves on Monday. I think Almqvist was right when he said he probably would have had time to sit down with each audience member for a one-on-one.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Dave Roepke at (701) 241-5535