gig report: The Knife, London Roundhouse 8th May 2013

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I felt the need to write about this show, even though I didn't go there to review it, I went to enjoy it.

For me The Knife are probably the last established act which I admire that I had yet to see to live, so I was looking forward to this show a lot. They didn't disappoint me, perhaps because I had done my homework and I knew what to expect, or perhaps because I actually genuinely enjoyed myself - but they disappointed some others. I thought the whole show was a lot of fun, a curious piece of performance art wrestling with itself with how to properly represent the lengthy and ambitious new album without alienating 'Deep Cuts'-era fans who expect something more "club-based".

The tone for the evening was set by the warm-up act D.E.E.P Aerobics. In case you were wondering, that is short for Death Electro Emo Protest Aerobics, which in reality translated to a very fit scantily clad guy encouraging us to shake off our stress and enjoy ourselves, against a backing track of En Vogue and the like. A few people got into it, but most ignored it, and in terms of getting an audience to be, erm, more tactile, he wasn't in the same league as Dan Deacon.

On to the main event though, which had been billed as the Knife and Sorkklubben - a temporary performance collective - and teased with an annoyingly pretentious post on the band's official site. Having revisited that post, a few things leap out at me. They said they will all be there, all performing live and that they were never faceless. All of these statements were challenged in the next 90 minutes.

For the opening 'A Cherry on Top' the band appear cloaked in what look like sparkly raincoats, so you can't tell who is who, or if they are even The Knife. There are some unconventional instruments on stage which may or may not be "real", mostly percussion, but there was a modified harp and a bowed bass instrument the size of a snooker table which created an overpowering drone. In terms of mood, this continued the trajectory of the Fever Ray show I saw four years ago. It certainly took the energy levels down from the aerobics work out, but I thought it sounded great.

'Raging Lung' was up next, raising the tempo a little and showing how they can play as a band despite nothing on stage resembling conventional rock instrumentation, and then they gave us a surprise in the form of a new version of 'Bird'. which served as a bridge to the second section of the show. During the guitar solo, Karin (I think) sprinted across the stage to dance with the guitarist and by the end of the song they were all dancing and the stage was cleared of instruments.

They then danced their way through 'Without You My Life Would Be Boring' without even an attempt to lip-sync the vocals. The lighting changed, the raincoats were shed and they turned into a dance troupe for 'A Tooth for an Eye' and very welcome 'One Hit'. Visually this wasn't a million miles away from Glee or Riverdance or the Top of the Pops dancers, but surely that was the point. Was this better or worse than watching faceless figures performing experimental music? The extreme contrast worked for me, and the people around me enjoyed this more than the downbeat, conventionally performed material. Is it significant that I was about ten back from the stage in a crowd of 3000? Probably.

Next up we got 'Networking' which was just playback and lazers. A tactical trick, as this was presumably how long it took the performers to get changed and get their breath back. If we had been watching a big rock band in the 80s this would be where the drum solo popped up. People around me were dancing as if they're in a club, but I did have a slight nagging thought at the back of my mind saying "hang on, there is now no-one on stage, this is supposed to be a gig."

They returned in downbeat mode as a full band for a superb 'Wrap Your Arms Around Me' which ended with Karin uttering "thank you" into the mic. That surprised me, as I wasn't really expecting any of them to speak. They revisited 'Deep Cuts' for the only time tonight for a visually bizarre 'Got 2 Let U' which featured one of them duetting with an image in a large photo frame, whose lips were in sync with the male vocal.

'Ready to Lose' and 'Full of Fire' brought us back to the new album, the latter challenging the audience again as the now hooded band stood still in a huddle for more than half of it, before breaking into what can only be described as interpretative dance.
The epic 'Stay Out Here' was sung by others but I have no idea if these were the guest vocalists from the album or not. They left the best until last with a pulsating, ecstatic version of 'Silent Shout' and all of them backlit with lasers, visually stunning and very memorable, before handing seamlessly to Hannah Holland for a DJ set which was such a good fit that a lot of people didn't know the Knife section was over.

That is another issue of course, The Knife fit so well within club culture that they could get away with just playback, visuals and the odd live vocal, but as they have a sizeable fanbase within the world of experimental rock music that sort of thing is often met with derision. They came here to put on a show and they gave us a damn good one, their onstage energy levels were off the scale and they delivered everything that I expected.
I've been to gigs that have inspired negative reaction (the Fall a few times, the Stone Roses, Bob Dylan all spring to mind) and I was largely in agreement with those. However, I have nothing bad to say about this show whatsoever. It was challenging and puzzling of course, but so are The Knife as a whole. Oh, and for the record, I do get into lots of gigs for free, but I paid for this one and I would book again.

{other people take better pics than me, so check this selection)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting my pic in the top instragammed pics. And great review. I loved it too. Sad that people don't think Karin or Olof were there. I saw them gyrating about on stage enough!