Live review: The Knife – Roundhouse, London, 9th May 2013
The Knife’s current shows were highly anticipated – they have only toured once before seven years ago, the year their previous album (Silent Shout) was released, so tickets sold out sharpish. It’s fair to say that judging by the Silent Shout tour, and gigs by Karin Dreijer Andersson’s Fever Ray project, their fans were expecting that they would be seeing the duo of Dreijer Andersson and her brother Olof Dreijer performing the songs live on stage, probably with some outlandish get up on and interesting visuals. Well, they got the latter parts, but not the former.
The title of the new record is an indicator of how the gig would be – Shaking the Habitual. After a support act involving ‘deep aerobics’ (a man in a silver wig pumping up the crowd), the wayward rumblings of A Cherry on Top fill the Roundhouse and a whole troupe of people walk on stage. It’s not easy to discern which of them are the two siblings that make up The Knife. There are strange instruments dotted around the stage, which are struck and plucked – but they’re just being mimed for visual effect. This is more engaging than anticipated. Who would have imagined that strange squealing sound as coming out of a wind instrument? It’s like watching a band of musicians playing odd futuristic instruments in a sci-fi film. Soon after, the instruments are wheeled off stage, and the rest of the set is mostly dancing and lights, with the performers careening around the stage and taking turns to mime the songs, finishing with an amazing light show for Silent Shout.
The shows on this tour have annoyed a lot of people. Mainly because they were hoping for a more traditional gig, with musicians playing instruments, prodding sampler pads and fiddling with laptops, and they didn’t get it. But the disappointment is hard to understand – The Knife have always done things differently and when musicians known to be subversive release an album entitled Shaking the Habitual… what would you expect?
But did it work? Well, it was certainly fun. The dancing was amateurish, and there were few particularly surprising moments when it got going. When the dancers stood stock still for the greater part of Full of Fire, it would have been unusual not to imagine that they would suddenly break into a full on freak out. And when they did, it was slightly faltering and clumsy. If the dancing was more professional it would have made a more convincing visual spectacle. Alternatively, maybe I would have minded less if I had a standing ticket (I was seated) and it was a Saturday night rather than midweek, so I could get into the spirit of things and start dancing myself.
It was entertaining and different enough that it didn’t occur to me to walk out as some people did, and it made me question what I expect from a live gig. The Knife have asked themselves how to present their music, which is not the easiest to translate from the studio to live performance, and made something that, while it isn’t completely successful, is exciting, engaging and has got people talking. Never a bad thing. So I’m happy for The Knife to continue on their weird way, and let’s hope they keep making incredible music whilst they’re about it.