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Fever Ray, O2 Academy, Bristol

I've not posted a gig write up in a long time. One day I might get around to post-documenting some of the backlog. However, here's something very fresh.

Last night I went to see Fever Ray. Fever Ray is the assumed band name of Karin Dreijer Andersson, one half of the strange and compelling Swedish brother-sister art-electronica duo, The Knife.

The ticket price for this one was fairly steep. Seventeen pounds is a lot to ask for an debut act, on a Bristol weekday evening. Knowing the Knife to have something of a penchant for staginess and performance statements, I figured that the cost of admission might indicate a more elaborate performance spectacle than the routine Academy show. It wasn't a terribly full crowd, which may have also had something to do with the ticket price. Luckily my expectations of an interesting presentation were met, more than satisfactorily.

A stage swathed in as much machine-made fog as I've seen since I last watched the Sisters Of Mercy, decades ago. For readers unfamiliar with the Sisters' stage ouevre, let me clarify; this means a lot of fog. The five-piece band only identifiable as bizarre silhouettes suggestive of a dark circus. Improbably tall hats, shadowy pierrot faces, frock coats, hunched shoulders. Karin, stage center shrouded in an enormous cowled cloak, the headress simultaneously suggesting fur and antlers and briar-hedge basketwork, her peculiar outline only really humanised by oversized white gloved hands. During the second song, she cleverly unfurled her cloak a little, a sudden backlight creating a surprising stained-glass panel effect that seemed to shine from inside her.

The whole performance was a meticulously staged progression, slowly opening up the initial murk. At the start the overhead fog was scissored dramatically by a pair of slow moving laser beams. By the second song, they'd each expanded to a pair of fan shapes. Later on these picked up oscillating movement, and eventually traced out colour shifts in the waves of fog. Within the on-stage gloom, the odd sight of a dozen or so standard-lamps, pulsing away in time to the beats through thick lampshades. I didn't have my camera with me, although I expect it would have struggled to capture any of this well. Quite a few people have submitted photos of previous shows to flickr.

As the show progressed, the stage was slowly up-lit from the back with soft blue and yellow glows. The cloak was shed, placed on a stand just behind front of stage, it still loomed, like some kind of shadowy spirit-familiar. Gradually we could see a little more of the performers, jigging around, wildly shaking shamanistic totem-sticks, pounding away on congas and toms, yet still the lighting and smoke effects kept them essentially obscured and anonymous.

The short set stuck solidly to the album, without encores, which was fine by me. My attention didn't wander, nor did I tire of standing in place. My only complaints would be with the slightly murky sound, which isn't that unusual for the Academy, and that the music didn't really connect as terribly live, aside from the vocals; pitch-shifted, yet weirdly still human and very real. I think this was probably down to a combination of the very programmed sounds, and the distancing effect of the theatrics. It was something more like watching a stage-show display set to a musical playback, than a rock music show. I took it as an opportunity to watch something a little out of the ordinary, and enjoyed myself.

The album is ace, and I recommend it to anyone. You can find it on spotify.

The video for "Triangle Walks" gives an impression quite close to the live show. There are some other videos available on the band site which give a good sense of the Fever Ray aesthetic.

Triangle Walks from Fever Ray on Vimeo.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 14, 2009 at 13:45 in gigs, music.
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