Fever Ray / September 28, 2009 / New York (Webster Hall)
Anyone who's followed masked-marauding electro-pop duo the Knife knows that Swedish singer Karin Dreijer Andersson isn't really big on recognition. When she took the stage with her new project, Fever Ray, at Webster Hall Tuesday night (Sept. 28), the crowd was drenched in so much fog, people had trouble finding their own faces, much less making out the one of the ghostly woman standing at the mic.
But that's alright -- there were plenty of other things too look at during the band's performance. Like the furry, bear-sized coat resting on Andersson's shoulders. Or the nine vintage lamps scattered about the stage, flashing hypnotically to the rhythms. Or the swarm of laser beams slicing through the air overhead.
Inspired by equal parts "Exorcist," a Pink Floyd planetarium show and your grandmother's basement, Fever Ray's visual spectacle was as eerie and entrancing as the devilish, downbeat tunes pouring from the speakers. Though both of Andersson's projects are cut from the same experimental cloth, the differences between them were apparent from the first ominous notes. Where the Knife bubbles and bounds with one eye toward the dancefloor, Fever Ray slithers with subdued energy, quietly winding haunting vocals harmonies and peculiar keyboard melodies around hypnotizing tribal rhythms. Even with the cornea-searing lasers bouncing around the balcony, Fever's first-ever U.S. concert was a slower, more subtle affair than the Knife's Blue-Man-Group-on-ecstasy live events.
That's not to say the show was a complete downer. Thanks to some excellent live instrumentation (and, of course, Webster Hall's booming soundsystem), mid-tempo head-nodders like "Seven" and "Triangle Walks" grew almost propulsive in their live setting. An unexpected cover of Nick Cave's "Stranger Than Kindness" proved more brisk than any of the band's originals. Still, energy soared highest during "When I Grow Up," the only song on which Andersson stepped out of the shadows and exposed her kabuki-painted face to the wild applause of the audience.
Alas, the reveal was short-lived. Soon Andersson was back in the shadows, obscured by the fog and the dazzling eye-candy overhead. Before anyone knew it, she had glided offstage, leaving the audience dazed and confused as the house lights slowly came up. Clocking in at just over an hour (no encores on this outing), Fever Ray's debut American appearance was a short one. But the gorgeous nightmares it induced will be difficult to shake for some time.