Backstage at the Staples Center arena in Los Angeles, the Hives are stripping down to various stages of undress. A couple of them are already shirtless, and guitarist Nicholaus Arson has only a towel around his waist, drinking a beer with his feet up on a table. But his brother, singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist, still looks impeccable in a white tuxedo shirt and black pleated slacks. After 45 minutes onstage, he's barely warmed up.
That's the length of the Hives' opening slot on Pink's current U.S. tour, where the band from the tiny hamlet of Fagersta, Sweden, is confronting the headliner's pop music fans with a euphoric blast of garage rock and supreme overconfidence. Leading up to the tour's final date on March 28th in Boston, the Hives are mixing explosive anthems from the last dozen years with high-strung tunes from their new album, Lex Hives.
While the Pink tour is hitting arenas exclusively, the Hives' brand of rock is translating easily to the largest rooms, little changed from their own theater sets."We've come up with a way to play garage rock in arenas without making it arena rock," says Almqvist. "It seems really good. I hope we're not peaking, but it's possible. So you've got to see us now. We might get worse tomorrow."
During off days, the Hives are also headlining their own shows, playing sets closer to 90 minutes and including more songs from Lex Hives, the Devo-ish "Wait a Minute" and the clanging rock & roll of "Patrolling Days" among them."Usually, when we start our own shows they're all there," Almqvist says of the crowd with a laugh.
Arson calls their Pink dates a quick "infomercial" for the band, kicking off each night with the new album's one-minute call to action,"Come On!" Since many shows were already sold out before the Hives were added to the tour, they're mostly facing Pink fans uninitiated to the Hives' sonic boom.
"I think we're shocking some of these people. They think they know what to expect and they get something else," Almqvist says, calling the arena dates for the Pink faithful a"crash course, Hives 101.
"It's like the different stages of denial: After one song, it's fair. And after two songs there's a tinge of excitement," he says of their eight-song sets."At the end it's pretty much all excitement."
The new album is a return to basics for the Hives, after experimenting with the Neptunes and other outside producers on The Black and White Album in 2007. The band produced Lex Hives in Sweden themselves.
"The idea was to spend as much time possible standing around playing the instruments together," says Almqvist."It's easy to get lost in the computer fiddling with things. Most of our time in the studio was actually playing music. So much of our favorite music was done that way – like Fifties rockabilly or Eighties hardcore punk. Some of our favorite rock records were done by people who couldn't afford to be in the studio for more than a couple of hours."
The last Hives album was five years ago, but they weren't quiet in the time between. The band toured Europe, Asia and elsewhere much of that time, and they say they have a head-start on the next album, with a collection of songs begun but left unfinished from the Lex Hives sessions."If we manage to finish the songs we have, our next record is going to be super awesome – twice as good as this one," says Almqvist. "We've been trying to finish them for a couple of records now. It's hard to know what's going to happen."
On the album cover and on tour, the band is dressed in formal bowties and tails, the most elegant of the Hives' black-and-white uniforms."If both Dracula and Fred Astaire wore it, we're in pretty good shape," Almqvist says, adding that deciding on an outfit is always a struggle. "Basically, this band has a representation of every body type known to man. We're from small to an extra large. We're a good representation of mankind."
Their road crew are once again dressed in full Ninja gear, and now have their own fan club. "They get a high five at the end of the night," says Almqvist. "The high five is minimum wage in Sweden."
After the Pink tour ends, the Hives will stay on the road through September, with trips to South America and Scandinavia and summer festivals across Europe. "We've got ninjas with us, so we might has well play every day," Almqvist says.
Leaning against a dressing room wall is a bike that drummer Chris Dangerous spent the day riding up into the hills of Hollywood, reaching the Griffith Observatory seen in Rebel Without a Cause. The others went to the beach for some surfing, though Almqvist mainly watched from the sand.
He gets his exercise onstage. His leg is still bleeding from slipping while standing on a folding chair during "Walk Idiot Walk." He doesn't complain. "I think we bleed more than most rock & roll bands," Almqvist says. "It's stigmata – we're sacrificing ourselves for our fans."