The Knife @ Webster Hall 11.01.06
If it’s one thing that can be said about Swedish brother-sister electro duo The Knife, it’s that they’re really fucking weird. It’s not even their music, which is admittedly odd but not outrageously so (one song [covered] was in a television commercial, after all). It more has to do with their whole aura; stuff like how they won’t be photographed without masks (lately they’ve been photographed with long, phallic wooden beaks). You know, stuff like that. So it was with a mixture of extreme, extreme excitement and extreme, extreme trepidation (I’ve got to admit that I was worried it would resemble some awful art school thesis project or maybe the Tobias Funke-approved Blue Man Group) that I made my way to Webster Hall last night.
Turns out that it was really, truly amazing. It was pretty darn weird, but not in an alienating, “uhhhhhh what the fuck is this?” way. To be honest, I think it was the best possible way they could have adapted their slinky, sinister electro-funk; hailed largely as an ‘audio-visual experience,’ it was just that.
The basic setup was a thin, invisible scrim at the front of the stage, with the duo somewhere in between wearing either face makeup or ski masks with parts of their face (eyes, nose, mouth, ears) exposed but covered with stuff that glowed in the crazy lights. It was arguably the darkest setup I’ve ever seen – you only saw what you wanted them to see. Even their equipment was darkened to the point of being shapeless masses either in front or beside the performers. Behind them was another sheet, although this one was more visible. Sometimes the moving images on both screens correlated, sometimes they were completely separate, always they were striking.
The brother, who handled most of the electronic wizardry (I’m assuming), had two long (glowing) sticks that he would smack around to affect their signature ‘electronic steel drum’ sound (at one point mimicking the bong-bong from the “Top Gun” song “Take My Breath Away”). The sister, who did most of the vocals, screamed, squelched, and sang, with the electronic modulation hard to detect. This led me to one conclusion: she was part robot.
A shout-out goes to the second lamest-assed crowd I’ve had the misfortune of being stuck with in recent memory (the first goes out to the folks at the Beck show at MSG – never forget). The line for this show was around the fucking block (literally), there were two Cardigans in the audience, and during the encore animated words jumped up and down on the screen behind them (a clear indication of what the AUDIENCE SHOULD BE DOING) but most were content to merely sway, nod, and play with their cell phones. A kid next to me was telling his friend how he saw Julian Casablancas riding his bike on Broadway. Did they not see that there was a crazy Scandinavian horror show laser light dance party going on in front of them? Clearly not.
The set was EXACTLY an hour long (those Swedes – you can set your watch by the length of their sets) and not a moment was wasted. Between the three-dimensional video heads that dotted the stage (sometimes they were monsters, sometimes mutants, sometimes skeletons) and the seemingly three-dimensional sound of the theater (it was like being in sense-surround-sound) and the leftover Halloween decorations, it was like being in a crazy futuristic haunted house that was also an EPCOT pavilion (The Horrors of Normality, maybe). Actually, I think someone once called the “Silent Shout” album ‘haunted house music.’ Maybe it was Pitchfork. Or possibly Max. Whatever. The show cemented the album’s standing as the year’s best record (something I’ve been saying since ten seconds after hearing it for the first time) and this was, most assuredly, one of the greatest shows I’ve seen all year. If I can’t have Daft Punk, this probably ranks a close second in the silly-brilliant possible-robot category. And that's saying A LOT.
"Pass This On"
"We Share Our Mother’s Health"
"You Make Me Like Charity"
"From Off To On"
"Like a Pen"
Photo courtesy of Chokedamp (our professional photographer forgot his camera).
Setlist courtesy of Stereogum, who also noted the “Take My Breath Away”-style bong-ing (nice).