Friday, May 8, 2009

Live: The Kills

When: 5/4
Where: Music Hall of Williamsburg

The most common adjective describing the Kills 2008 album Midnight Boom has been "sexy." Indie rock, sexy? Yes, friends, it's finally been achieved. The band's arty garage rock is smart but accessible, edgy but not pretentious, and a welcome break from most of the vapid bullshit that goes on in the indie scene.

As a duo, the Kills use the whole stage and seem hyper-conscious of the possibilities the space offers. From the first note of their massive opening rendition of "U.R.A. Fever," the two took the stage by storm. It's a cliche expression but never so true as here: they acted like they owned the place - and that sort of confidence compels respect. Even their obviously semi-choreographed moves were delivered with such passion and conviction that they seemed less contrived than most other bands' more spontaneous gestures.

And their antics fit the tight post-punk edginess of their sound to a T. Allison Mosshart walked in agitated circles around her microphone like a untamed tiger in a cage, and when she lit up a cigarette, she smoked it with the fidgety intensity of someone in the midst of a nervous breakdown. More than that, though, she always focused on the audience, climbing on monitors and making the front rows go wild. She is the perfect image of tension, skittish and knotted around her guitar.

And though calmer, her co-conspirator Jamie Hince does little defuse the show's nervous energy. His moves are deliberate and restrained, which only winds the tension tighter. Like Mosshart, he also likes to play to the audience, leaning over the edge of the stage to address the excited fans below. On the sad ballad "Black Balloon," Hince receded into the shadows at the back of the stage, while on "Hook and Line," he took the front to bust some bizarre moves.

The Kills
The Kills

The interactions between Mosshart and Hince, playing off the music's obvious sexuality, made the show. During "Last Day of Magic", the two placed their microphones close and facing, singing the song to each other, at times only inches apart. During another song, Hince walked across the stage to pull Mosshart's hair while she sang.*

The band played most of the tracks on Midnight Boom and a few others. Sadly, they skipped "What New York Used To Be," despite it being a pretty obvious choice for this tour stop. But they covered the best of their other tracks, and despite having a prerecorded rhythm section, they used different mixes to rework each song into something large enough to fill the space. It was not a carbon copy of the album at any point.

Unfortunately, the performance was interrupted by several unwanted presences on stage. The first was an overzealous guitar technician who apparently really wanted to be seen on stage with the Kills. Mister Eager Beaver rushed Hince at any sign of a technical problem and continued to pop out uninvited throughout the show, despite Hince's obvious attempts to chase him away.

The second unwelcome presence was more interesting. Music Snobbery was closer to the center of the action and his account is a bit more detailed. Judging from what he says and what I saw, Hince attacked a heckler with his guitar and eventually brought him on stage to make the attack easier. Between songs, the offender suddenly leapt up and went after Mosshart. Whatever his intentions, he was a really creepy guy and Mosshart was pretty freaked out - you know, like you are when some creep tries to assault you. The overzealous guitar tech jumped in the middle and a split second later, Hince had the guy by the collar, lifting him and slamming him repeatedly into the speaker (and this was not a particularly small guy!). After he was done with the slamming, Hince threw the jackass head first into the crowd, where he landed skull first. Throughout the whole scene, the venue's security team was nowhere to be seen.

Music Snobbery is a bit angrier at Hince than I was. Yeah, he shouldn't have engaged the guy in the first place, but let me tell you, if anyone ever went after my band's singer, the guy would get worse than a mild concussion. Hince's instinctual protectiveness of Mossheart was really sweet and the fact that he can kick someone's ass when the situation requires? Badass. And kinda hot.

After that incident, the Kills did what they could to recover the momentum and finish out the encore, never disappointing the audience who had come to see them make their music.

I came away from the concert liking the Kills far more than ever before. And I liked them a whole lot before, so that's saying something. [MySpace]

* I found it interesting to learn that despite the music's intense sexuality, Hince and Mosshart have never been romantically involved. That chemistry is all musical. And that just makes the whole thing cooler.

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