Around the turn of the decade, I used to go and see a Brooklyn band called Les Savy Fav every time they played London. They were a fantastic night out. The singer, Tim Harrington, occasionally behaved like a cross between Iggy Pop, Salvador Dali and Captain Birdseye.
I remember one show where he spent most of the show stalking the dancefloor with a monitor on his shoulder, another that probably involved quite a lot of shoe throwing, and a third where the entire crowd were compelled to sit on the floor of the Dublin Castle while he passed among us. Harrington was always very funny, and it helped that he had such a tight band backing him up.
Because before their New York/Brooklyn contemporaries made post-punk hip, Les Savy Fav understood that there was a continuum from punk, to the Gang Of Four and Public Image and Talking Heads, to US hardcore and American underground bands like Fugazi, right on through the likes of Sleater-Kinney. Difficult rhythms, cheesewire guitars, literate words; none of this ever went away, it just stopped selling itself to the fashionable kids.
The weird thing about Les Savy Fav, though, is that their records never had the same impact. I’m pretty sure I have them all at home, I remember enjoying them briefly, but I couldn’t name you a single song. For me, it was all about the shows.
The arrival of “Let’s Stay Friends” makes me wonder, though: have their records radically improved, or should I go back and play the old ones again? My hunch (though I will check out “The Cat & The Cobra” etc again) is that it’s mostly the former. “Let’s Stay Friends” is the first Savy Fav album in six years, apparently, and God, it’s great.
In the interim, the band kept running their Frenchkiss label and, amongst other things, released the first two Hold Steady albums on it. If you’re a fan of those wordy, anthemic records, you should definitely have a go with this; “The Year Before The Year 2000” and “Patty Lee”, especially, have a similar feel to them of a kind of post-punk bar band.
Imagine The Hold Steady, though, if the Husker Du love had been replaced by a powerful Fugazi influence; the fantastic “Brace Yourself” has the same taut, dub structure of something like “Waiting Room”, I think. Or imagine The Hold Steady if, instead of parties and Catholicism and ordinary street-hustling lives, they sang about medieval monarchs (“Being the king was pretty cool,” observes Harrington in “Raging In The Plague Age”).
Of course, judging Les Savy Fav purely by comparing them with The Hold Steady is pretty unfair. “Let’s Stay Friends” is simply a great record by a great rock’n’roll band who have, I think, finally found the great tunes to match their great ideas. Have a listen at myspace.com/lessavyfav and let me know what you think.