Music never stops surprising.
I was a fan of The Kills at their beginning. I had listened to one of their single on TV and, quite impressed but skeptical about a duo with a rhythm section built on laptops’ software, I bought the debut album Keep on your mean side to experience the entire thing.
Listening to Alison Mosshart -alias “VV”- singing (and guitar) and Jamie Hince -alias “Hotel”- guitars (and singing), I went haywire. I hated and loved the CD at the same time for the very same, simple reason: it sounded a PJ Harvey clone.
For someone (me) who loved Rid of Me and PJ’s most abrasive attempts, a bit of electronica and a drum machine were not enough to differentiate enough those guitars and that singing to avoid plagiarism.
Nevertheless, loving that kind of music, I could not deny Kills‘ debut was a very catchy album for exactly the same reason. Keep on your mean side is the album PJ hasn’t been recording for almost a decade.
While PJ Harvey‘s fans in need of her darkest depressed mood were left orphans of those songs, she was enjoying a self-confidence period. Fullfilled with the optimism of alternating a New York residency with English seaside, she wrote a bunch of bright pop songs that ended up in the Mercury winner album, Stories from the city, stories from the sea.
The Kills arrived to provide a fresh supply of tunes for those fans. The added bits of electronica, in fact, showed that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
I had to satisfy my curiosity and see them live. At that time, I guess somewhere around 2004 (my memory isn’t as strong as it used to be), they gave me the impression of tasting a new unripe fruit, however the ardor they put on stage was so involving that it was clear the fruit was going to turn sweet very soon.
About a year later, surprise, PJ Harvey came out with Uh Uh Her. I wouldn’t want to go as far as saying that the master was influenced by the pupil, but it is difficult to not notice that she brought her music, her voice and her artwork back to the bone, back to Steve Albini’s era, quite close to the territory being just walked by the Kills.
It was a slow grower on me but Uh Uh Her is a brilliant album. Sounding like a home recorded 4 tracks demo, it is built on the same raw passion that emerges from Kills‘ debut.
Has a competition started? Did PJ wanted to clarify who was the owner of that sound in rock music?
I’m not sure, but if it was a competition, the Kills accepted the fight but lost it.
In No Wow, their second album, they went even more radical. So primitive to turn monochrome. A sort of “Black and White Stripes” without the red, the Blues and Jack. The abrasive guitars are present and surrounded by minimalist bits of computer sampling. A direction I didn’t quite like mainly because it lacks nice ideas yet it contains their best song so far: Rodeo Town.
I confess I ignored the Kills since. Including Midnight Boom, their third release out this year.
My 2008 has been a mainly an alt-folk, often acoustic affair. Dedicated to the baroque listening coming from the wilderness of the northern states, I didn’t have space for “Hotel” uncompromising guitar and “VV” sexy lyrics.
Back after 2 weeks away from UK, I fortuitously read that the Kills were coming to (Cambridge) town.
I decided to go. Because I knew how brilliant they are live, because I wanted to photograph them and, why not, to give them another chance.
When Jamie “hotel” Hince and Alison “VV” Mosshart (Does anyone know the origin of these nicks, please?) walked the Junction stage it has been instantly clear that was going to be one of those night.
Masters of the situation they delivered an enthralling performance that nailed me and few hundreds people to the stage for the following 80 minutes.
Both totally absorbed. Completely immersed into the music to ignore the rest of the world.
The closer a rock concert can be to a sexual intercourse. A carnal triangle between the band, their songs and the audience.
Pure sex without physical contact. Sensuality without any flirting. Detached but so intimate you feel their breath.
A 80 minutes affair of sweaty “sex’n’roll”.
Jamie with his Lou Reed-ish leather jacket, is dominating his guitar. Alison, so attractive by her aloofness, is dominated by the songs. The audience, defenseless, is subjugated by their charisma.
I haven’t seen a show so full of passion since Jon Spencer got distracted by experimenting third millennium rockabilly with Heavy Trash and stopped exploding the blues.
Jamie guitar does not cut only the venue smoky atmosphere. Each riff scratches Alison heart with no harm. From the wounds a melodic soul pours out to remind everyone why we love rock music.
It’s just an hour when they walk out but after such an emotionally intense gig I experience the 3 songs of the encore more like a gift than a due act.
Modern alt-folk baroque harmonies clearly distracted me through 2008, I have the feeling I am going to rock my 2009.
A gig so lo-fi, so real, so uncompromisingly pure that I could tolerate listening to a drum beat without seeing a drummer on stage. The day that a drummer will materialize, we will be witnessing one of the best live experiences rock music can offer.
Retrospectively, I decided to get Midnight Boom. 34 minutes of brilliant songs and
the competition with PJ is finally over.
She spent the year playing a piano wearing a white dress, the Kills must have found a virtual coloured pencils box in the hard disk of recording studio computers.
Their once minimalist, black and white music now shines in multicolour splendour. Coarse guitars are almost disappeared to give space to electro-pop songs with their characteristic unrefined edge. From U.R.A. Fever opening duet through the TV hits Sour Cherry with his annoying chorus to the closing ballad Goodnight bad morning lights; positiveness emerges.
The two are clearly enjoying life, likely Jamie is having a great time with Kate Moss.
A band which started cloning PJ Harvey depression is now inhabiting Santogold liveliness. A band that in the space of three albums manages to deal with such different musical backgrounds still maintaining a coherence thanks to a true love for what they do, must be applauded.
If you don’t know The Kills, you have good chances to catch them sooner or later considering their incessant touring to promote their music. Keep an eye on their official places, as usual start from their [myspace] and [website].
When there is not a drummer on a rock stage, my music patience is severely tried but photography has a clear advantage.
A drummer sitting behind his bulky kit on the back of the stage is visually accepted as a (loud) presence at live shows and, despite often intrusive, is tolerated as an unavoidable figure on live music images.
To isolate a musician on the front with a drummer on the rear a telephoto coupled with a wide aperture is the most obvious option. Unless you opt for a side shot or kneel down for a lowered point of view against the ceiling.
When the drummer is not there, there is a chance for that rare opportunity to use a wider lens, allowing you to get closer, and include a part of the stage that will look neutral without the imposing, distracting majesty of the drummer and his kit.
If these conditions happen, don’t deny yourself the pleasure of portraying the artist live with the full stage. The photos will be real and more spontaneous of anything you can achieve simulating a live gig with a fake studio setting.