Buzz Bin

The Hives swarmed into New York last Wednesday accompanied by the buzz of a music industry and public magically aligned. The five post-pubescent Swedes shivered and shook onstage at Bowery Ballroom like they were either bees or afflicted with an infectious disease, tearing through a 40-minute set of Nuggets redux so all-American they positioned a massive (Stankonian?) Old Glory behind them. Hives singer Pelle Almqvist commandeered the proceedings with the ironic detachment of a sideshow emcee, proclaiming the venue “the United States of the Hives” and himself “your new president,” all the while swaggering self-consciously like a youthful Jagger, only with slightly thinner lips and a nicer ass.

Pulling mostly from their recent U.S. major-label debut, Veni Vidi Vicious, which came out abroad in 2000, the band coiled its studied amalgam of robotic monster Kinks riffs and swampy blues grooves into 150-second mousetraps, each snapping closed with a distinctive, cathartic thwak. The Hives’ roots are unabashedly in the garage, but there’s no grease on these coveralls; instead we get neatly tucked neckties, saddle shoes, and skin hues—all white as cocaine—and rock moves as polished as a Sunday-drive ’67 Mustang. When the quintet froze like statues for 30 seconds in the middle of “Main Offender,” the choreographed chaos was laid plain for all to see.

Despite the lack of spontaneity, hits like “Hate to Say I Told You So” (dedicated to those who Pelle said “paid $400 for tickets on eBay”) and “Supply and Demand” generated a Spector-esque raw power. Pelle’s voice spanned the Bobby Brady register all the way up to an electrifying squeal, transforming the Hives’ recorded pop confections into hard candy with sharp, dangerous edges. When guitarist Nicholaus Arson led a descent into the dirge of Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?” their blues had unmediated soul. Whether or not they’ll record their follow-up in Muscle Shoals, however, remains to be seen. —Eric Demby

I Know What Love Is

Randy Newman is trying not to break your heart, but he can’t help it. Wednesday at the World Financial Center, he was generous with the Funny tunes, like “Short People” and “Sail Away,” but those happen to be two of the three most brutal songs by a white guy about racism in America since “Strange Fruit” (the third is his unperformable “Rednecks”). He made light of the Sad ones, playing “I Think It’s Going to Rain Today” just as it did, and noting the absurdity of writing a lament for your first wife called “I Miss You” at the same time you’re writing a Funny song about taking the kids from your second marriage to grade-school orientation (“The World Isn’t Fair,” addressed to Marx). They’re both devastating, and either one could still be his saddest (not “You Can Leave Your Hat On,” as he claimed). And although he ridiculed the Cute stuff, questioning the sexuality of the Toy Story kid and whining that the “fucking dog” barked over his incidental music, in context you can’t deny the elegance of that material.

He foretold a list of Great Composers of the 20th Century that includes only “Paul Simon, Sly Stone, the Seeds, Shostakovich—guys that start with S.” Yeah, right: He was in town to be indicted by the Songwriters Hall of Fame, and I’d say it had given him Bob Dylan Disease (wherein institutional honors make you dwell on your old stuff) if he hadn’t done the same bit at SummerStage two years ago, along with most of the rest of the show. He drew some friendly boos when he played “I Love L.A.,” but didn’t mention that the Lakers would sweep the Nets within miles and hours, and he should have left “Political Science” (“Let’s drop the big one now”) somewhere above Canal Street. Then again, it was a request, and Randy Newman gives you what you want—even if it hurts. —Josh Goldfein

Chemical Sister

Folk music as live entertainment can be dull, Chan Marshall theatrics notwithstanding. But unlike many a six-string-toting misanthrope, British folkie Beth Orton has mastered the art of audience rapport. Setting a brisk pace for her two-hour-plus set on June 10, her charming Norwich accent and wisecracks eliciting hearty yuks and whistles, she electrified the Hammerstein Ballroom with moody acoustic compositions that, backed by an upright bass, cello, drums, and keyboard (and a well-hidden laptop), weren’t afraid to flirt with country, rock, blues, and melodica dub loops. Her slender frame draped in a black chiffon dress, mussed blond bob partially obscuring her face, Orton spun narratives dredged from the boozy depths of a James Baldwin cotton club with her haunting voice. Her shaggy backing band—straight from an episode of Fraggle Rock—fleshed out a somber repertoire of songs from her new album, Daybreaker (out next month), as well as older hits from 1999’s techno-folk pastiche Central Reservation.

Orton, who first got her break as a vocalist for the Chemical Brothers, hasn’t entirely abandoned her U.K. acid-house roots, but Reservation‘s laconic beats here took a backseat to an old-fashioned, string-fed jam session. Laptop-generated basslines were subtly employed on Daybreaker‘s title song and a few older tracks, but in a curious twist, the instruments themselves were called upon to create spacey sound effects: the violinist generating synth-like twitters with sideways swipes of his bow, the trumpet the airless clacks of an early-’70s drum machine. Purists may yearn for Joni Mitchell, but it’s Orton who will most likely win over new fans. She gives modern folk music the poignancy and relevance it needs to reach a generation weaned on clubland’s heady fodder. —Adrienne Day