There's one conspicuous difference between the two Swedish bands that performed Tuesday night at the 9:30 club: The Hives are showmen and Sahara Hotnights are songwriters.
The headliners took the stage in matching two-tone outfits -- black shirts, white jackets, black pants, white shoes -- as a neon sign proclaimed "The Hives." The quintet essentially updates the Ramones formula, playing old-timey rock faster and harder than any '50s rockabilly cat could have imagined. But where Joey Ramone was coolly detached, Hives frontman Pelle Almqvist is a hyped-up huckster, extolling his band's greatness after every number. Some of those songs -- notably "Missing Link" and "Dead Quote Olympics" -- were pretty catchy, but the band relied more on swagger than melody. Borrowing heavily from Mick Jagger and James Brown, Almqvist was a dynamic yet overly self-conscious presence. He kept the 50-minute show moving briskly, while carefully avoiding spontaneity.
The music of Sahara Hotnights is a dissertation in punk, glitter and classic rock, as thoroughly footnoted as that of the Hives. From pithy guitar riffs to unison choruses, however, the quartet's music is much better endowed with hooks. Paced by sprightly tunes including "Walking on the Wire" and "Difference Between Love and Hell," the band's 35-minute set never faltered.
Still, Hotnights would be livelier onstage if singer-guitarist Maria Andersson weren't so dominant. The group doesn't need identical costumes, but a little more interplay between the musicians would make them more interesting to watch.
The show opened with a Memphis trio, the Reigning Sound. In some other context, its twangy but near-tuneless retro-rock might have been refreshing, but on this bill the Sound was just more evidence that American rock inspiration has been outsourced.
-- Mark Jenkins