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Ian Pearce

The Knife performed at Boston’s House of Blues this Monday as part of their “Shaking the Habitual” tour.

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★★★★✩

The Knife

Shaking the Habitual Tour

Monday, April 28

House of Blues, Boston

How would you feel if you went to a concert where a performer dressed as an aerobics instructor with tights, a wig, and glittery shorts asked you to repeat, “I am not a woman, I am not a man, I am both, I am neither, if you don’t like it, take a breather?”

This is how The Knife opened their show this Monday, when their “Shaking the Habitual” tour arrived to Boston’s House of Blues. The Swedish sibling duo, known for their political and ideological music, brought an ensemble of dancers and performers for their new show, which received polarized reviews from both the fans and the critics. The range of opinions was notable from the beginning of the show, when the costumed instructor asked the audience to let go of their self-consciousness, hold the hands of those standing next to them, and yell, “Participation, across every nation.” It became obvious that the show was not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer released their latest album Shaking the Habitual last year after seven years of unexplained hiatus. Whereas their previous albums showcased intellectual but accessible music, the new album was a challenging collection of tracks that directly addressed political and philosophical topics through unconventional instrumentation and occasionally cacophonous, exhausting music.

The post-hiatus transformation is visible in their new show as well. Unlike the previous tours, where the focus of the show was on live performance and the duo’s masked physical appearances, the new tour does not emphasize live instrumentation nor the duo’s stage personalities. Instead, Andersson and Dreijer share the stage with a dozen of dancers and performers, their faces are revealed, and almost half of the concert is a choreographed, eccentric show with playback music. To new listeners, The Knife would seem like an ensemble of performers rather than a musical duo.

Sounds like a waste of money, right? You can easily stay home and watch the concert on YouTube if they are not going to play a full live set. But that’s the essence of “shaking the habitual” — breaking the stereotypical concept of a good and entertaining concert. You might be accustomed to seeing a local band open for one of your favorite artists, but The Knife challenged preconceptions by bringing a drag queen to the show who asked audience members to acknowledge others around them for what they are and to participate in the performance, because they should, as the performer described it, “move to be moved.”

Indeed, most of the concert was an unconventional set of colorful light show, tribal dance moves, distorted singing, sparkly makeup, and jovial choreography. Even though many songs were not performed live, the accompanying choreographies were well-executed and truly captivating. “Full of Fire” featured a dark light set and freestyle dance moves, while “One Hit” showcased a rhythmic pop-based choreography full of kissing and juvenile steps that resembled the hokey pokey.

It might be hard to understand how these satirical and amateur choreographies were complementary to lyrics such as “For a reasonable salary, I would wash the world, it wouldn’t affect my libido or self-esteem,” or “Let’s talk about gender, baby, let’s talk about you and me.” But, The Knife gave a clear and compelling reason why these ideas were transmitted through a theatrical show and not through a regular concert — because it’s easier to convey difficult concepts to people through choreography and dance music than through other forms of art.

The new show was not devoid of The Knife’s usual themes and messages. While the political connotations were only noticeable if one paid special attention to the lyrics and the interludes, the gender-based topics could be clearly seen in the choreography and the visuals. All the male performers, including Olof Dreijer, wore glistening makeup and the same body suits as the female performers. Almost all the choreography defied the concept of “masculine” or “feminine” movements.

For example, during few songs, both the male and the female dancers engaged in very aggressive, tribal dance movements, after which they all switched to graceful and sophisticated rhythmic body gestures. There was a moment in the show where two couples performed the cha-cha-cha, presenting the basic steps such as “Chassé,” “New York,” and “Spot Turns”. It was clear that The Knife found an opportunity to introduce the concept of gender fluidity through ballroom dancing, because the performers were dancing with others of the same gender.

It is very easy not to like this show. Despite the entertaining choreographies and few standout live tracks such as “Pass This On” and “We Share Our Mothers’ Health,” some aspects of the concert were not so successful. The distorted vocals were very distracting at times, and some of the slower songs, like “Wrap Your Arms Around Me”, unnecessarily mellowed down the upbeat character of the show.

Furthermore, this was not an accessible concert. Compared to the studio versions from Shaking the Habitual, the live renditions of the songs were easier to understand and internalize, but the show still contained many challenging topics and ideas that were hard to process in only ninety minutes. Nevertheless, “Shaking the Habitual” tour is a fun, unique, and memorable show that’s different from anything you have ever seen before. It will force you to participate, offer you the chance to appreciate discordant and unconventional music, and — most importantly — encourage you to become someone who is willing to shake the habitual.