The photo above best represents the image in my head of what The Knife would look like on stage. My skewed perspective came from the media that surrounded the album that first introduced me to the masked Dreijer siblings. The visual companions to Silent Shout were extremely dark and they portrayed Karin and Olof as anonymous figures in a variety of ominous settings. I always knew The Knife was a political movement as much as an artistic statement, but I never allowed myself to delve too deep into the philosophy of the band. The music and aesthetic were enough to make Silent Shout stand out against anything else in popular music, and that was enough for me. When Shaking The Habitual was released last year (a full seven years after Silent Shout), it finally became too hard to ignore the band’s politics. The new album could be appreciated without a true understanding of the message contained within, but the accompanying End Extreme Wealth comic book, and recent interviews, acted as a map to guide the listener through the social critique being presented through The Knife’s art. I won’t go into the politics here, but I do recommend doing some research yourself — it does add another layer to the music. But even more than that, I recommend doing some research around the Shaking The Habitual Tour before attending. The more you have prepared yourself, the more you will be able to relax and enjoy it for what it is. I assure you, it is not like any concert you have ever been to. Instead of a dark electronic duo, hidden behind masks in the shadows, this tour is a heavily choreographed, fluorescent display of politics and sexuality. Part Burning Man, part Cirque du Soleil, part EDM dance party…The Knife and their contributors have managed to blur the lines between a musical concert and performance art.
Knowing that we might be a little late to the show, I called the Fillmore to ask what time The Knife were schedule to perform. The answer I received, “The Knife will be on at 9:00pm, but there will be deep aerobics to get the crowd warmed up at 8:40pm”, wouldn’t make sense until we actually entered the venue just before 9:00pm. As we made our way into the auditorium, we heard the sounds of the large crowd being guided through a series of calisthenics by a booming, extremely demanding voice. This voice belonged to a painted, bearded man in a dress. The floor of the Fillmore looked like a giant yoga class, as the collective mass stretched one way, and then the other, while repeating mantras like “I am still alive and I am not afraid to die!” The level of audience participation was astounding. I was at the Snoop Dogg show at Red Rocks on 420 and he could barely get the crowd to throw their hands up in the air, so it was surprising to see everyone playing along with this messianic man in drag. I immediately felt like I had walked into a cult gathering. That feeling did not leave me the entire evening.
Once the crowd was properly indoctrinated, The Knife took the stage as silhouettes with a variety of percussion instruments. The lights exposed a troupe of dancers in blue jumpsuits as “Wrap Your Arms Around Me” brought the stage to life. This was one of the few songs were Karin and Olof were immediately recognizable, but that was only because she had the microphone and he was on the elevated DJ stand. From that point forward, all of the players in this strange game were almost interchangeable, as they swapped instruments and positions within the scene. There were times when I’m not sure the Dreijer’s were even on the stage. This wasn’t like an EDM show though, where a repeated recorded loops or samples can come across as boring or lazy — even if everything wasn’t being performed live, there was enough stimuli that the senses were never starved for nutrition. Sometimes the music droned on, causing a trance of sorts, but sometimes (as with “Birds” and the rave-version of “Silent Shout”) you couldn’t help but dance.
There was a part of me that didn’t understand what I was seeing. There was the part of me that wanted to fight the influence of those on stage. There was a part of me that felt like I had been tricked into participating in something I wasn’t comfortable with. But then I just gave in, and although I still felt confused and ignorant to what was happening, I was enjoying myself enough that I was able to clear my mind of questions. I didn’t need to understand.
The Knife were made up of many people on Monday night. The Dreijer’s were just two of those people. And while the performers all existed in a state of anonymity (they all dressed the same and looked alike from a distance), there was a collective personality. The lights and glitter and costumes might have made them appear to be from another plane of existence, but they would bring it all back home by shouting “Denver, where you at?!!!” and “We are The Knife, thank you for dancing with us!”. When they directly addressed the crowd, it was almost like their words poked a hole in the thin layer of reality that separated those on the floor from those on the stage. I think this was a calculated form of throwing a towline out to the audience. It ensured that they didn’t lose touch with those they were trying to convert. Sometimes this method worked, sometimes it didn’t.
As much as I appreciated that The Knife were bringing something completely different to the live music experience, I would be lying if I said I wasn’t most entertained by the more traditionally performed tracks — the ones where Karin was standing at the mic and Olof at his station. But that’s just my own opinion. When The Knife left the stage, they announced that DJ Ganesh would continue the dance party for another hour — once again flipping conventional norms on their back — but at that point in the night I didn’t need to dance anymore. I needed to go home and process what I had just witnessed.
And here I am, two days later, and I don’t feel like I’ve truly processed anything. I don’t feel like I did the show justice with this review. Does that mean this show was so incredible that I can’t put it into words? Does it mean it was so confusing that I can’t explain it? Was it genius? Was it a mess? I really can’t answer those questions. All I can say is that I’m glad I went. It’s not often that a show has made me ask so many questions.
Wrap Your Arms Around Me
We Share Our Mothers’ Health
Without You My Life Would Be Boring
A Tooth for an Eye
Full of Fire
Ready to Lose
Pass This On
Stay Out Here