The Knife Kool Haus, Toronto ON, April 25

The Knife Kool Haus, Toronto ON, April 25
Photo: Kevin Jones
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Last night, Swedish electronic duo the Knife performed their first show in Canada at Toronto's Kool Haus. The band's core members, Karin Dreijer Andersson and Olof Dreijer, were joined by a dozen performers for a night that was as energetic as it was radical.

The show started with "D.E.E.P." (Death Electro Emo Protest) aerobics, led by Miguel Gutierrez. Dressed in tights and a pink wig, he directed the crowd in a series of moves and radical affirmation chants, like "I am not a woman, I am not a man!" Before he finished, he told the crowd that the Knife's show would be a "participatory experience" and that the band needed to be as inspired by the crowd as we were by the band. The audience's inhibitions lowered as this goofy-yet-poignant exercise set the stage for a concert that felt genuinely communal throughout.

Without the house lights coming up, a precession of performers in sparkly, multicoloured clothing filed onto the stage, and the band kicked into "Wrap Your Arms Around Me" from Shaking the Habitual. Andersson and Dreijer stood mixed among their dancers and backup singers, as they would remain throughout the show, joining their dance routines, playing instruments beside them and singing in unison.

Shaking the Habitual is a long, challenging, even abrasive album, but its songs were energetic and fun when performed live. Highlights included a crooning "Without You My Life Would Be Boring," a stomping "A Tooth for an Eye" and a soaring, transcendent "Stay Out Here." It was as if the album's high concepts were intended for the live environment all along. Older songs, like "We Share Our Mother's Health" and set closer "Silent Shout" were freshly rearranged for this tour's musical and aesthetic style.

The performance continuously thwarted the audience's expectations of seeing the Knife, the duo, live and in person, as various performers assumed the position of "lead singer" and sometimes lip synched over Andersson's voice. On the Silent Shout tour, Andersson and Dreijer obscured their faces with masks and makeup; here, with their faces fully visible, they hid themselves anonymously among their colleagues.

There was one major exception, when Andersson gave a disarming recitation of a poem entitled, "I Want a Body." It was a powerful and sometimes cheeky call for gender equality, with lines like, "I want a body that nobody can kick out of bathrooms, and then I want no bathrooms." It was an intensely personal but light moment for a performer who rarely steps out of the shadows, let alone shows her face, and more than pleased fans hoping to connect with the duo.

The band intermittently performed live and with prerecorded tracks, employing the latter for dance routines that included all performers. Even the "live" songs were questionably so, as dancers manipulated home-made, futuristic instruments that may or may not have been plugged in. None of this mattered, though; it was all about the show. Whatever organic and emotional presence the Knife might have lost by falling back on recordings, they more than compensated for with the show's inviting, communal energy.

"We'll see you again in seven years," they shouted as they left the stage, referencing how rarely they record music and tour. It was sad, if you thought about it, but crowd was too ecstatic from the show's energy to care.

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