BY JONATHAN VALANIA FOR MAGNET The NoMad Hotel is one of those swanky bubbles boutique hotels that bejewel the tonier provinces of lower Manhattan. It is here, in this New Gilded Age outpost situated in the fragrant heart of the Perfume District, that The Hives have decamped for a four day charm offensive on Gotham’s media elite, fresh off a triumphant return to the stage-and-screen with a headlining slot at Coachella and a riotous studio lot performance for the Jimmy Kimmel Show. Inside the library lounge, suitably bedecked with gorgeously illuminated two story dark wood book shelves lined with sumptuously-appointed leather-bound tomes of unknown vintage, Hives frontman Howlin’ Pelle Almquvist and his brother, Hives’s guitarist Nicholaus Arson, are holding court. There is nothing particularly punk rock about staying at the NoMad, however it is very rock n’ roll and The Hives ceased being a punk band and started being a rock n’ roll band a long time ago.
The room is full of stylish, important looking people nipping fancy beverages, poking absently at smart phones. The one confirmed celebrity in the room, in addition to the aforementioned Hives frontman, is the rapper Mos Def, who gives Pelle that barely perceptible tip of the hat nod that the famous trade when they spot each from across a crowded room. It’s been five years since we last heard from Fagersta, Sweden’s finest. A not insignificant amount of drama has unfolded in that time. “There were some problems that pretty much nothing to do with anything but something to do with a lot,” says Arson.
First, the Hives have parted ways with Universal Music and walked away from $10 million recording contract that tethered them to Big Music and ushered these punk rock refugees from a backwater Swedish mining town into the ranks of the upper crust. All told, this parting of the ways is not necessarily a bad thing, but more on that later.
Secondly, Pelle suffered a rather severe concussion when he tried climbing up a lighting rig during a show in Switzerland and fell nearly 10 feet onto his head. “I then finish the show limping like a three legged dog and speaking in tongues,” he wrote on the band’s web site. “Turns out I have a concussion and god knows what else. The highly skilled doctors are still trying to find out. X-rays, brain scans and running other tests. I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that, shit, I may even be mortal.” Before that he dropped a knife blade down on his foot and severed a tendon governing the movement of his big toe that doctor’s say they have never seen on a homo sapien. “Basically, my big toe is biologically constructed like a thumb,” says Almquvst with a shrug. “Probably means that I’m the last step in the evolutionary chain.”
And then there was the lawsuits, which have punctated just about every period of the band’s career starting at the beginning when they told Warner Bros. ‘fuck you’ and Warner Bros. said ‘No, fuck YOU.’ and sued The Hives for, like, a bazillion dollars. After two years of lawyering up, they wound up settling for considerably less. In 2008 a band called The Roofies sued the Hives claiming their song “Tick Tick Boom” sounds too much like their song “Why You?” But it quietly went away. Then in the spring of 2011, fellow Swedes The Cardigan’s threatened to sue the Hives to recover the remaining $3 million of the $6 million they claim they loaned the Hives that had not been paid back. This, too, went away quietly. Concurrently, and quite possibly not coincidentally, The Hives sued their money managers, claiming they had helped themselves to a little too much commission. The Hives won. The Hives always win. MORE
RELATED: The Hives aren’t an arena rock band, they just play one on stage. All faux-bluster, comic petulance and winking self-aggrandizement, they evoke the high dudgeon of Diver Down-era Van Halen upon having learned that the brown M&Ms have not been exiled from the backstage banquet. But unlike Van Halen, they play it strictly for laughs. The prime driver of these immensely entertaining delusions of grandeur is the band’s sassy, boyish front man, Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist, a born entertainer with lungs of leather, a certain Jagger-ian grace, and large expressive eyes that could have made him a star in the silent film era. Straight outta Fagersta, Sweden, the Hives have been, if they do say so themselves, single-handedly saving rock ‘n’ roll since at least 2000. That was the year they unleashed Veni Vidi Vicious, which is, all kidding aside, the greatest garage-punk album since 1965?s Here Are The Sonics. Missing in action since 2007?s The Black and White Album, the Hives are back in black-and-white (their signature stage-wardrobe color scheme), with a new album, Lex Hives, and a global quest for world domination masquerading as a tour that brought them to the Electric Factory Wednesday night. MORE