The Kills
Live @ O2 Academy Oxford
October 4, 2016
Review & Photography: Steve Bateman

There's a heart-warming moment towards the end of Pots And Pans / Monkey 23, just before The Kills' encore, which serves to highlight the very special bond and chemistry between the magnetic Transatlantic duo. Whereby Alison casually lays on the stage and rests her head on the monitor, affectionately gazing up at Jamie who plays his guitar standing over the top of her, with the pair exchanging smiles and laughing.

Of their rich 16-year history together, Wikipedia reveals: "Mosshart was previously in Floridian punk rock band Discount and Hince was in the British rock bands Fiji, Scarfo and Blyth Power. Mosshart encountered Hince when her band was touring England, where "he was staying in the flat upstairs from where I was staying" in London. Mosshart insisted on forming a band with Hince and "really persisted and eventually we started writing and he encouraged me." Hince supplied her with a four-track tape recorder and insisted she wrote music as well as lyrics, while on tour with her band. The two continued to exchange music ideas by sending each other tapes. Discount disbanded in 2000 and Mosshart moved to London in the same year. Before settling on a name, Mosshart and Hince performed as "VV" and "Hotel" respectively, Hince explaining that they "named each other off the top of our heads as a stupid romantic ode to the pop art scene." The duo opted for The Kills as it "sounded like a band that could exist in any decade."

Using the ideas on the tapes, Mosshart and Hince began to write minimalist songs with the aid of a drum machine. In 2001, they showcased their new songs on a demo tape; however, the pair shunned approaches from major record labels. Recording as VV and Hotel, they contributed the song, Restaurant Blouse, to the compilation If The Twenty-First Century Did Not Exist, It Would Be Necessary To Invent It. Shortly after this, they recorded their debut release, the Black Rooster EP, which saw release on British indie label Domino Records and was picked up for distribution by Dim Mak Records in the United States. It was lo-fi in both musical and aesthetic terms. The record was a sparse, lo-fi garage rock/blues hybrid. The band cites Captain Beefheart, PJ Harvey, LCD Soundsystem, The Velvet Underground, The Fall, Patti Smith, Suicide and Royal Trux as immediate influences."

Issuing their fifth album, Ash & Ice, in June of this year - for me, it easily ranks as The Kills' strongest and most varied LP to date, emphasising just how much their signature sound has evolved to encompass more melody, dynamics, electronic beats, programming, layers, pop hooks and polished production. But, it's a long player that may never actually have been completed at all, as in 2013, Jamie suffered a serious injury to his left hand after accidentally trapping it in a car door. He elaborated to DIY: "I had surgery six times and had a tendon transplant so it was really just about grabbing the moments here and there. I think there was a sense afterwards - having finished the record and looking back on it - that there’s a thread of triumph, as a theme of the record."

As Hince now only has extremely limited flexibility in his middle finger on his left hand (which sadly, means that The Kills are no longer able to perform certain tracks from their back catalogue anymore), he has confessed: "There was a point where I thought I wouldn't play guitar again. That was a very weird feeling." The accident also resulted in him having to relearn the guitar with a new playing style, for which he studied music theory so that he could configure new chords for four functioning fingers. Attempting to adapt to this situation and eager to push things forward, Jamie also decided to build a home studio so that he could focus more on production - hence the reason for computer software becoming a writing tool and the use of sound-warping gear, such as echo units, reverb boxes plus a greater amount of synths on Ash & Ice. In an interview with SMH, Hince optimistically concluded: "Even now it makes the hairs on my arm stand up, because ultimately, it opened so many doors creatively. When you can't play guitar you have to operate differently."

In a live context however - or "going into the unknown" as Alison puts it - thankfully, this hasn't dispirited the band in any way, with Jamie still retaining his unmistakable guitar sound, and tonight in Oxford, The Kills confidently sprint out of the starting blocks by unleashing Heart Of A Dog. A telephone dialling tone and digits then connect us to a fiery U.R.A. Fever, with Mosshart and Hince trading call-and-response lines before singing in-unison: "You are a fever, you ain't born typical..." The vintage Kissy Kissy is followed by some new cuts, Hard Habit To Break and Impossible Tracks.

For many years, The Kills performed as a two-piece, using backing tracks to create a fuller sound. But now, they've enlisted the services of a drummer and a keyboard player, which helps to beef up their sonics no end and is even more noticeable through the venue's brand new line array speakers / sound system - this is seriously LOUD! A mellow Black Balloon dissolves into some of my favourite singles ever released by The Kills, Doing It To Death and Baby Says, with the latter soon seeing Alison and Jamie sitting on the monitors facing each other, before encouraging the crowd to clap along during this slow-tempo number.

Onstage, Alison and Jamie are fascinating to watch and never fail to provide an adrenalized gig! When not playing her six-string, Mosshart prowls and dances around the stage holding her mic-stand / lunging her body in-time with the rhythm of the music, flicks her long bleached-blonde hair and stands atop the monitors, occasionally singling-out lucky audience members to sing to. While her musical foil, Hince, always plays his guitar with true panache, sometimes holding it like a rifle or casually strumming chords and leaving his arm hanging in the air to let the notes ring out, all the time surveying the crowd as he moves around the floorboards. Dead Road 7, Tape Song, Echo Home, Whirling Eye and Love Is A Deserter, are all dispensed with cool effortlessness and I absolutely love the slow-burning Echo Home, as The Kills' delivery of this track is so calming and affecting - utterly stunning!

Although sharing songwriting duties when collaborating, each member mostly sings the lyrics (which range from impressionistic to personal) that they themselves have penned, with both of their voices blending together perfectly. Interestingly, having also spent time as part of The Dead Weather, Mosshart has mentioned in some interviews, how her voice has matured because of this experience and her vocals now vacillate between soulful and sultry, yet are still shot through with that primal bluesy howl of old.

For the first song of the encore, the very beautiful Alison returns alone and is lit by a bare light, performing the broken-hearted ballad, That Love, with an acoustic guitar. The audience is so attentive and transfixed, that you could hear a pin drop! With little dialogue throughout the evening - obviously preferring to let their music do the talking - The Kills bow to elated cheers at the conclusion of the set, with their touring bandmates in tow and say a heartfelt: "Thank You, Oxford." With their final track after Siberian Nights being a pulsing Let It Drop, this was a set consisting of songs that covered all moods, emotions and eras from the pair's body of work.

As ecstatic fans file-out of the blisteringly hot venue into a chilly autumn night, having just witnessed an electrifying show that I'm sure none of them will ever forget. I'm also certain, that each and every one of them would whole-heartedly agree, that rock 'n' roll is something The Kills were born to do! Summing up the unique dynamic they share, Jamie recently declared: "Alison's an explosion of creativity and I really want to preserve that. I don't want her to think too much about music and I never want to be too spontaneous."

A very special thanks to Caroline @ Domino Record Co, for all of her time and help.

Oxford Set List

Heart Of A Dog
U.R.A. Fever
Kissy Kissy
Hard Habit To Break
Impossible Tracks
Black Balloon
Doing It To Death
Baby Says
Dead Road 7
Tape Song
Echo Home
Whirling Eye
Love Is A Deserter
Pots And Pans / Monkey 23
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
That Love
Siberian Nights
Let It Drop

"Maybe you went out of your mind"