“Welcome to the Shaking the Habitual Tour!” cheered The Knife’s opening hype man at the Fox Theater Wednesday night. “I’m here to warm you up!” He bounced onstage to face a full house of plaid shirts, gold jackets, platform shoes, and all brands of quirky night wear sported by the festive Oakland crowd. A single spotlight shone on our “Death Electro Emo Protest Aerobic” instructor, as he called himself, illuminating his purple wig and the vertical red folds of the drawn theater curtain behind him.
A hype man in place of an opening act was the ideal way to welcome a band that most fans had already waited for so long to see. Since 2001, Stockholm sibling duo Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer as The Knife have intrigued listeners with their intense and tuneful music. Karin’s machine-processed gender-bending vocals and her brother’s deep, restrained techno beats paired well for an irresistible, eerie music aesthetic that, for an electronic-only band, has put them in a unique and peerless position. In terms of impact, you might call Kate Bush and David Bowie their ancestors. The band rose to popularity with their second record Deep Cuts (2004) and its infectious, shout-along single “Heartbeats,” popularized by fellow Swede Josè Gonzàlez. By the release of Silent Shout (2006) and about the time The Knife began performing live, it came as a bummer to a growing number of Stateside fans that the band didn’t really tour America. Their stop at The Fox Wednesday night marked one of the few times The Knife had performed internationally.
It was fitting that their rare appearance was an extraordinary spectacle. Like a neon, spandex-clad male Tinkerbell, their fearless hype man led The Knife anticipators in an energetic array of stretches to The Rapture’s “Get Myself Into It”. As he chanted affirmations like, “Self-consciousness is the illusion that this is only happening to me!” and “I’m still alive and I’m not afraid to die!” the all-ages pit in front of the stage dutifully echoed his avowals back, and bounced in time with the bearded, bombastically-clothed guru. He was as empowering as his elaborate crotch-guard, which was prominent against his clingy exercise garb. It was a striking sight.
Not stricken were the grave-faced security guards, who watched the crowd get themselves totally into it. The observant press on the sidelines agreed that every show could use a warm up guy like this one. “I think that’s a great idea, man,” one show photographer said to another fellow with a camera. “It’s better than an opener.” Rather than exhausting fans through an unknown local band, everyone was prepped to get down with the effervescent main act. In less than ten minutes, our guru left, clapping and springing, and The Knife promptly took the stage.
The venue’s patrons heard the eerie sounds of The Knife before they could see them. Behind the still-drawn drapes, a synthetic hum pushed through the dim room like an eerie fog. If you missed the rumors of their dance troupe spectacle, didn’t see their Silent Shout Tour DVD, or ever worried The Knife were just another electronic laptop band (let’s be honest, if you’ve heard their arresting music, it wouldn’t be a thought or concern); it was for naught. The curtain lifted, and they revealed their show as a lively, well-developed version of the two-man band their studio albums credit The Knife to be. Backed by an entire dance troupe in blue and purple lamè one-pieces, Karin and Olof’s performance band exuded fun. At the head of the stage, a male and female dancer-vocalist each shimmied with the lively, carefree energy of co-eds on spring break. Karin joined in to dance with her triple-threat crew (each dancer also a percussionist, instrumentalist, or vocalist), who embraced themselves under the band moniker. “We are The Knife!” a performer sporting a long braid and facepaint announced to the crowd between songs.
The Knife mostly performed tracks from their latest acclaimed release, Shaking the Habitual, but interspersed into their set old favorites like “If I Was A Bird,” “One Hit,” “We Share Our Mother’s Health,” and remixes of “Forest Families” and “Pass This On.” On a few of the tracks, the band didn’t even try to replicate the precision of their recorded material, and they let fog machine smoke curl up their kicks and jumps as they entertained the crowd with straight dance routines. The breaks were few, and they primarily balanced singing and playing instruments between their dance numbers. In bedazzled sneakers that were visible enough for even those seated in the nosebleed section of the theater overhang to notice, the performers fanned hands with matching orange nail polish, their smiles as bright as their costumes.
Karin gave her crew a break in the middle of the show with her stunning spoken-word rendition of a poem by her friend called “The Body Possum.” As its title alludes, it was an ode to the many facets of the body, and it served as a primer for the progressive ethics of the band. The radical Oakland crowd cheered as their idol pronounced her bold words. “I want a body I can live in,” Karin demanded, not a hint of irony in her delivery. “I want a body with two dicks, five pouches, and 15 holes.” The power of the poem was in its honesty. What’s more moving than admitting, without strategy, your foremost desires? “I want a body that’s not afraid to fuck,” she continued. “I want a body that needs for it, and begs for it.” She also wanted a body with medical marijuana in every corner, healthy organs, all of the audience’s bodies, and a body that wakes up clawing. It was the most moving, poignant moment of the show.
After a long wait for so many fans, The Knife’s live show delivered the passion their music had always promised, from the facial expressions of Karin to the band’s energetic body movements. It was a refreshing, professional blend of movement and song into a statement that spoke on behalf of leftfielders and conservatives alike. This troupe seemed to believe they were making something truly great; that they might change mindsets and awaken the world from its routine stupor of daily whatever. They awakened every attendee at the Fox, who had helped sell out both nights.