Garage-rock lessons with The Hives 

click to enlarge In town: The Hives play The Warfield in a sold-out show Wednesday. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • In town: The Hives play The Warfield in a sold-out show Wednesday.

It’s no secret that Howlin’ Pelle Almqvist is an authority on all things garage-rock. For nearly two decades, he and his scrappy Swedish outfit The Hives — playing San Francisco this week — have been hammering out high-voltage variations on the theme, from 1997’s “Barely Legal” to the upcoming self-released “Lex Hives” scorcher, with songs — such as “Come On!,” “1,000 Answers” and “Without Money” — clocking in around two minutes.

He has become one of rockdom’s most commanding frontmen: “I can get 80,000 people to do what I say now,” he says.

It wasn’t always that way. Working as a grade-school music teacher for a semester between The Hives’ first and second albums, Almqvist struggled to impart wisdom to his uninterested pupils.

“But there was very little teaching of music,” he says. “It was more me concentrating on getting them to sit down and shut up, which I was not very successful at. And The Hives were one of the few local bands who’d put out a record, so the kids knew who we were. But I don’t think they liked us very much, so it was all very hard for me.”

Three days a week, Almqvist tried to keep his lessons lively.

“I would get the students to play their favorite song and talk about it, or teach them to play drums on their knees,” says the singer, admitting he didn’t have many real instruments in that tiny school outside his hometown of Fagersta. “There was only one drum kit, but they didn’t let the kids anywhere near it. But when class was over, I’d sit at those drums and try to come up with songs myself. Most of our second album (‘Veni Vidi Vicious’) was probably written in that music room!”

Afterward, the serious record collector grew more professorial, developing theories such as how The Hellacopters single-handedly launched the entire Scandinavian garage-rock movement.

Sirius XM Radio was so impressed with his encyclopedic knowledge, he got his own “Nordic Rox” show, which he co-hosted with Roxette’s Per Gessle.

The Hives’ recent “Tarred and Feathered” covers EP-edified fans with obscurities such as The Zero Boys’ “Civilization’s Dying” and Flash and the Pan’s “Early Morning Wake Up Call.”

Almqvist even converted some of those snotty schoolkids — as adults, he has spotted them at Hives shows.

“I have very good facial recognition, and I recognize them sometimes,” he says. “In a crowd of 80,000, I can pick them out, every time!”


The Hives

With Refused and The Bronx

Where: The Warfield, 982 Market St., S.F.

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday

Tickets: $30 to $39, sold out            

Contact: (888) 929-7849,

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Tom Lanham

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