New music writing from Ignas Bautrenas!
The time is 7:30pm and it is cold outside, but the line to enter Terminal 5 is close to the 12th Avenue by now. Luckily I’m near the door, dreaming about the heat inside. The entrance is just a few feet away from me.
This is what myself and many others are doing hours before celebrating the 10-year birthday of one of the most prominent and iconic indie bands of the last decade. Consisting of only two members – British multi-instrumentalist Jamie Hince and American vocalist Alison Mosshart – The KILLS is a minimalistic but cardinal project. Neither one of the musicians was a newbie in an independent rock scene back in 2002 when they formed the duo, yet this particular band brought out the best in both of them. The KILLS is a loud fusion of blues and garage rock wrapped in lo-fi aesthetics and an insolent attitude deeply rooted in punk. Judging by the fact that this is the most sold-out show I have ever seen at Terminal 5 – their bluesy groove speaks to a wide audience.
The doors finally open and I make my way into the second floor balcony where I’ll stand for the rest of the night. This concert will be filmed from various angles and simultaneously broadcasted over the internet. From above I see a camera by the soundboard, a camera on the left side of the venue, a couple of handheld cameras laying on stage and it is obvious that there is a lot more I am not seeing. The broadcast is scheduled to start at 10:30pm.
As the crowd begins to gather around the stage the first opening act comes on. A visceral noise-rock band from Brooklyn called Hunters performs songs from its debut EP Hands of Fire and is a pleasant surprise, even when I had high expectations for the openers already. I am an avid fan of loud, distorted music and the last time I saw The KILLS perform in New York I was impressed by then-openers A Place to Bury Strangers. This time I expected to find out about another noisy band that I could explore later and Hunters happens to be just that. Their vibrant but short set is filled with feedback, maniacal rants from the two lead vocalists, a rhythm section as tight as the classic Novoselic and Grohl duo, and song titles such as “Deadbeat” and “Acidhead.” This is one of those rare occurrences that involve stage dives and crowd surfing during an opening band. I kid you not, Hunters is THAT much fun! Too bad their songs are short and they pound through them quickly.
The second band is JEFF the Brotherhood, a two-piece from Nashville, Tennessee who fuse psychedelic rock, garage rock, and punk to create a minimalistic but bombastic wall of sound. According to their singer Jake Orrall, he and his brother Jamin (yes, “the Brotherhood” part of their title refers to an actual brotherhood, and not some southern cult!) were nervous before playing on this important night, but the audience at Terminal 5 is warm to them. Their set is almost just as short as Hunters’ set was, but the very last moment before it’s all over The KILLS’ singer Alison Mosshart slowly swings out on stage and sings the last song with them, gaining JEFF the Brotherhood a loud ovation.
Over time the crowd grows in size and in eagerness. The stage is quickly freed from all the additional equipment leaving only the arsenal that belongs to The KILLS. Someone in the front row starts blowing up dark-colored balloons and suddenly there is a sea of black and purple bouncing all around.
The lights dim, the internet broadcast begins, and a figure appears on the stage. An old man dressed in a suit and red Converse turns out to be a DJ, an author and an overall artistic legend of New York named BP Fallon, who personally congratulates his “old friends Jamie and Alison” and gets the crowd to sing “Happy Birthday” to them. Then the two musicians come up on stage and the birthday celebration officially begins.
Jamie Hince is dressed in an elegant leather jacket tonight. Forever charming Alison Mosshart flaunts her new, bright pink hair. Jamie starts on the rhythm machine and the familiar drum roll of the first song “No Wow” rolls over the crowd. “No Wow” is soon followed by “Future Starts Slow” during which the four drummers in red masks emerge on both sides of the stage. They will be helping The KILLS’ nucleus with the rhythms of many songs tonight. “Future Starts Slow” is followed by “Heart is a Beating Drum” during which Alison shreds on her guitar for the first time.
The drummers retreat to the shadows and the stage once again belongs to the two main musicians who perform some of their older aggressive numbers – “Kissy Kissy,” “U.R.A. Fever”, “DNA”, and the melancholic “Satellite” that sees the help of two additional back-up singers. Having more than two people on stage is unusual for The KILLS, but it is also their anniversary gig! They have to shine and they do so.
Jamie sits down on one of the front monitors, and Alison follows him. Together they perform “Last Days of Magic” which is followed by “Crazy” (a cover song of Patsy Cline) and “At the Back of the Shell.” The balloons that were joyfully bouncing around the crowd earlier come back during “Black Balloon” (how appropriate!) and a few of them land on the stage. The involvement of the crowd makes the song one of the most memorable moments of an entire birthday concert. “I’ve been thinking about this day for a very, very long time and I am happy to spend it with you guys. Thank you,” says Alison after “Black Balloon” is over, and walks over to Jamie to fix his jacket collar. Now looking all spiffy Jamie dedicates the next song called “Baby Says” to his wife – the supermodel Kate Moss.
The four masked drummers remove their face gear and the band performs a few more tracks – “You Don’t Own the Road,” “Tape Song” (during which Alison takes over the role of percussionist), “Cheap and Cheerful”, and “Pots and Pans.” Jamie throws down his guitar, and before the lights go blind the birthday duo hug each other.
The break before the encore is short. Soon enough the gigantic leopard-print backdrop shimmers with miniature lights and the two return… carrying a bottle of wine each. “Here’s a toast to New York City,” says Jamie pouring his into a fancy tall glass. The gig continues with blue lights and one of the most beautiful songs the two have written – “The Last Goodbye.”
“And this one is to marriage,” Alison giggles as the married man Jamie rolls his eyes. The song dedicated to marriage ironically turns out to be “Nail in My Coffin.” As the birthday comes close to an end the duo brings their entire crew out once again. The four drummers accompany them on “Sour Cherry,” the first song the two ever wrote together appropriately entitled “Fuck the People,” and the closing tune “Monkey 23.” The very ending of the last song eventually explodes into an impressive savage jam session during which Jamie violently breaks his microphone stand and uses it as a slide to make the guitar wail. As opposed to many perks tonight, this move was clearly not planned and Alison is watching Jamie’s actions with as much surprise and amusement as the rest of the crowd. Then the two drop their instruments and embrace each other again. The birthday show is now over.
“Thank you so much for the last ten years,” Alison says to the ovation that the hug ignites.
Her voice is shaking and she is not the vicious rock n’ roll chick that she was just a few seconds ago. “I hope we see you all for the next ten! Thanks to the Hunters and JEFF the Brotherhood for an amazing tour. This is the end of the road for us. Thanks to our families and friends. This is fantastic!”
The lights dim and the fading screech of Jamie’s guitar is cut short. It is now past midnight and the snowflakes outside the venue are circling in the icy wind still gushing from the Hudson River. The impressive crowd that occupied the main floor and the two balconies of Terminal 5 begin to disperse, with fans contemplating the setlist that successfully covered the high points of the entire catalog of four studio albums while stepping over the infinite piles of crumbled beer cups that cover the entire main floor. The birthday was successful and The KILLS will be back with new material many times before another decade passes by.
* photos by ignas bautrenas
Ignas Bautrenas is a short story writer and journalist born in Vilnius, Lithuania who currently lives in Astoria, NY. He attended Hunter College from 2004-2009 and graduated with a BA in English. Ignas currently writes for sugarnthunder.com, manomuzika.lt, 15min.lt and other publications.