The Agit Reader

The Kills
Newport Music Hall, Columbus, February 18

February 26th, 2024  |  by Stephen Slaybaugh

The Kills at Newport Music Hall

It had been more than 20 years since I had seen The Kills first play Columbus to about 40 people, but as they launched into “Kissy Kissy,” a song from their debut album that they most likely also played that initial time around, you couldn’t necessarily tell that two decades had passed. Sure, they were now playing to a packed crowd in a venue more than twice the size of the one where they made their Columbus debut, and they probably have some nicer equipment through which to emit their slithery rock & roll interpolations, but in essence The Kills are very much the same entity that emerged in a time when two-pieces and “the” bands were en vogue in garage rock circles.

Indeed, it was still just the duo of vocalist Alison Mosshart and guitarist Jamie Hince who sauntered onstage. Nonetheless, the contrast between cuts from their debut, Keep on Your Mean Side and the material from last year’s God Games revealed how much their sound has mutated over the course of six albums. Cuts like “Pull a U” and “No Wow” were reminders of when the band seemed like a kinder, gentler (read: less fucked-up) Royal Trux, while songs like “Baby Says” (from 2011’s Blood Pressures) and “Black Balloon” (from 2008’s Midnight Boom) revealed the melodic steps that got them to where they are now.

But while I may still prefer the steely dissonance of the early material, the new tracks had equal appeal and gravitas. The slinky groove of “Love and Tenderness” revealed the duo to be every bit adept at subtlety as overdrive, while “103” blended the two approaches. Later in the set, “Wasterpiece” also straddled that line, only electronics providing the clanking backing for Mosshart and Hince to sing-speak in unison.

It was that interplay and the obvious chemistry between Mosshart and Hince that perhaps was the key, though. The two constantly played off of one another, Hince coming to the foot of the stage while Mosshart shook her head in sonic bliss behind him, or at other times, the two pacing around each other as if trading piercing blows. This contrasted sharply with that long-ago show previously mentioned when the two seemed confined to their own spaces. This night, they made the Newport stage their own, their swagger and joy signs of not only being at ease but truly in full command of their sonic presentation. Finishing, with “Fried My Little Brains,” another track from the debut full of frayed ends and jagged riffs, punctuated that prowess, not to mention ended the show on an exceedingly high note.

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