The line to get into Webster Hall snaked East across 11th St. and then up 3rd Ave to 12th St. I’d never seen anything like it. Standing in line to get in (always a hassle at Webster Hall) I heard people saying that tickets for tonight’s show were going for $100 a pop.
Maybe it’s not that surprising. The Knife cross cultural lines: club kids, art students, Scandinavian-philes, hipsters… okay maybe that’s merely different shades of blue but still, the American debut of these enigmatic Swedes turned out to be a pretty big deal. Though having been around since 1999, the duo (siblings Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer) never actually played live till this year, and there has been talk that after this tour, The Knife will cease to exist as we know it.
You got a sense of excitement inside the club. People were pumped. The band’s third album, Silent Shout, is as creepy as it is danceable; sinewy and beautiful. Who knew what they would be like onstage.
The show did not disappoint. I kept thinking of NYC art-rockers Talking Heads and Laurie Anderson while watching the show that was as much performance art as it was a concert. Dressed in black, with ski masks that glowed around the cutaways, Karin and Olof remained anonymous on stage. There was no doubt the vocals were live, even though they were heavily treated half of the time, and Olof augmented the sequenced beats with live drumming (via synth pads).
But the star of the show was the light show — a series of sloping staffs capable of a rainbow’s worth of hues — including impressive projections. While a giant screen was behind the band, a mesh screen in front of the stage (the entire stage) allowed two different sets of animations to happen at once, giving a 3-D effect to things. Additionally, giant stuffed heads provided further projection screens, on which singing heads provided backup vocals… so to speak. On "Marble House" Karin dueted with the disembodied head of Jay Jay Johanson.
It was, in a word, spectacular. And the sound (quadraphonic), to these ears, was perfect — and I am a known hater of Webster Hall’s generally boomy acoustics.
If there was a complaint, it was that, for whatever reason, The Knife reworked most of their songs for live performance. The wildly enthusiastic crowd was expecting a dance party, but most of the hour-long set was transformed into subdued rhythms. "Heartbeat" had the steel drum hook removed, as well as the kick drum punch, leaving a mellow groove that sounded good but didn’t quite get the joint jumping. It wasn’t until the encore of "Like a Pen" (or "L A P" as the projections spelled out) that the music struck a nerve and sent the crowd into hysterics.
Yet, no one seemed to really care, and I don’t think anyone left disappointed. (Okay apparently there were many disappointed people. Just not me.) A band this shrouded in mystery are expected leave you with questions — and the thump of excitement.
Photos swiped from noelani’s Flickr photostream.