I wasn't even meant to be at this gig. Initially – and indeed some time ago – I had bought a ticket to see Author & Punisher the same evening, after failing to get a ticket in the now-familiar scrum for a gig that raised as much interest as this. But, thanks to a message a few days prior from a friend, I got offered a spare ticket, and frankly, there was no way I was passing this up – and I had a second opportunity to see A&P on Sunday night, which I did go to (and a review will follow from that show in due course, too).
The Roundhouse, NW1
Some seven years since the dark (pitch-dark) electronic nightmares of Silent Shout, with quasi-opera diversions and side-projects in the meantime, The Knife have returned with an album (Shaking The Habitual) that has, to put it mildly, divided opinion.
But then, I wouldn't expect a 100-minute album, containing amongst other things a twenty-minute drone track and a lead single that is a searing, nine-minute industrial-electronic beast, to be anything resembling an easy album to enjoy. And perhaps needless to say, the gig was perhaps just as challenging, and enthralling.
And, needless to say, the gig divided opinion enormously – we weren't that far forward, and even just a few songs in, we were apparently losing people – and by the end, there were a lot leaving. But there were also a lot more people staying, and roaring their approval, and the comment online post-gig was similarly divided.
This division was caused, frankly, from before the gig even started, and this may have been down to The Knife's apparent insistence that this was not going to follow the pattern of other gigs in any way whatsoever. So rather than a traditional support act, we had an aerobics session – no, really – for twenty minutes or so from the side of the venue. Aerobics have never been my bag – I have other preferred ways of staying fit – but it was entertaining at least watching a very confused crowd react to someone who looked like a blinged-up, ultra-stylised Mr Motivator.
The Knife setlist
A Cherry on Top
Without You My Life Would Be Boring
A Tooth for an Eye
Wrap Your Arms Around Me
Got 2 Let U
Ready to Lose
Full of Fire
Stay Out Here
The main set – on at exactly 2100, and finishing at exactly 2230, adhering perfectly to advertised times in a way many bands simply do not – was even odder. As the lights dimmed, and the stage was bathed in purple and blue light, it became clear that the instruments onstage were not quite what we'd expect. There was a drumkit (apparently with various bone decorations, it was difficult to see in the gloom from where I was), and various microphones, sure, but other instruments were more difficult to identify, and this point was rendered moot by what followed anyway.
Because, well, it became increasingly clear that little of this was actually being performed live – although it should be noted that for me this did not detract from the show in any way. Rather than it being a straight performance of the material, it was The Knife, assisted by a dance troupe called Sorkklubben, performing to the music. And frankly, it was an enthralling ninety minutes to watch. There were spectacular, sparkly costumes in a multitude of colours, interesting looking instruments (even if they were little more than props), and most of all, some pretty impressive dance moves, in styling kinda like the amateur-ish stuff in that famous Fatboy Slim video, but with an infinitely better soundtrack.
The other odd thing – and I'm convinced this is a "comment" on the whole business of live performance – was that as the show unfolded, it became clear that we had no idea which of the nine people onstage were Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer. At least three, maybe four, of the women onstage provided "vocals" at one point or another, as well as what was apparently Karin with a beard projected onto a gilded picure frame (!) for Got 2 Let U.
This misdirection was fun, though, rather than irritating, and in any case what was going on across the stage was fascinating enough, particularly when linked to the music being played. As I've noted, the new album is one that could be described as challenging, and while most of the new album was aired, the lengthy drone pieces were not, which made the set punchier than you might expect. It did work in part – especially with it not being live, per se – as a brilliant way to appreciate the new album, as certain parts of it I heard in a whole new light.
The most glorious moments amongst the new material came from two songs, in my opinion – Without You My Life Would Be Boring was the first, and the first point where it was made obvious that they weren't playing anything that was on the stage live, but the song and dance performance that accompanied it was so jaw-droppingly brilliant in this venue that I couldn't have cared less who was playing it. And then, later on, the brutal force of Full Of Fire, yes, all ten minutes of it, was an astonishing primal rush that did a great job of truly livening up a crowd that up until that point, had broadly been stood gawping at the stage.
And the crowd came to life just in time for the finale, a quite amazing Silent Shout, one of the few occasions where they had tinkered with the songs in the set, and this version was simply better than any I've ever heard. The thundering bass was still there, as were the synth lines, but the beats were that bit heavier, and the dancers onstage kicked up a storm that spread across the crowd through the shadows, resulting in possibly the most euphoric finish to a show that I've ever seen.
The fucking with convention then continued by having an impressive DJ set seamlessly follow on from The Knife leaving the stage, meaning that up to the curfew, the crowd were able to stick around and continue dancing. I chose to take my leave – I was exhausted from a stressful week, and had another gig the following night – but the reports were that the DJ set was every bit as good as the gig.
One thing is for sure: to paraphrase the band, without The Knife my life would be boring. We need more artists that are willing to challenge the status quo, to let their ideals and ideas take them, and their fans, outside of their comfort zone. Staying still creatively is no longer enough, thrillingly it is something The Knife recogise and have taken forward wholeheartedly, and we should applaud them for it. Gigs don't have to be just a straight live run-through of the material as it is on record, and if you are going to do that, at least make the visuals interesting…