Featured photo by Maria Jose Govea / Red Bull Content Pool – no external photo credentials were issued for the show
Sweden’s Karin Dreijer kicked off a rare North American tour with the first U.S. Fever Ray show in nearly a decade at the Brooklyn Hangar Saturday night.
Speculation abounded as to the future of Dreijer’s solo endeavors following the 2014 disbandment of The Knife, the increasingly adventurous project she’d co-led with brother Olof Dreijer for over a decade. While their progression as a duo took them from relatively straightforward synth-pop to the radically deconstructed experimentalism of their 2013 swan song Shaking the Habitual, Dreijer’s 2009 debut as Fever Ray was a spectral, singular curiosity of a side project. Reviving the moniker made sense, but whether new material might sound like a sequel to that record’s creeping etherealness or take us in some unforeseen alternate direction altogether seemed like anyone’s guess.
Last October’s surprise-released Plunge finally offered an answer, with the dive-bombing synths of opener “Wanna Sip” instantly signaling the project’s dancefloor-minded shift. The record reads as natural post-Knife path for Dreijer, building from the political bent and confrontational sonics of Habitual in more personal and auteuristic ways, while condensing its oft-challenging sprawl. Taking place as part of New York’s Red Bull Music Festival in a remote, cavernous warehouse space, whose smoke-and-neon atmosphere suited it better than any conventional rock club could’ve, Saturday’s show in many ways followed suit.
Four years ago, the Dreijers drew both praise and sharp criticism over The Knife’s final tour, where a high-concept presentation featured a massive cast of dancers and significantly less live instrumentation than some audiences felt entitled to. Things were different Saturday, as a vibrantly-costumed six-piece ensemble of percussionists, keyboardists and singers brought both new and old songs to the stage as a very-much-live band, while maintaining plenty of that tour’s theatricality. Illuminated by a rainbow of dazzling light design, there was a garish body-builder suit, a goth accordion feature, eerily coordinated acoustic guitar strumming, and yes, still plenty of dancing.
Plunge, naturally, was the primary focus of the setlist, and the momentum of those songs translated well to an actual dancefloor. The dense, intricate tracks lost none of their punch in a room whose acoustics could’ve easily turned disastrous, and it was no fault of the band that the crowd never quite seemed willing to give into that momentum and move. Even the layered vocal arrangements, often a weak link in the live arena, sounded on-point – especially key for songs so thrillingly disarming in the frankness of their lyricism. (Dreijer’s first recitation of “this country makes it hard to fuck!” drew perhaps the most enthused crowd response of the night.)
Where the show did dip into 2009’s Fever Ray, the band wisely, and subtly, updated the songs with more driving arrangements that prevented those juxtapositions from feeling jarring, even if listening to both records back-to-back is just that. Only at the end of the night, with more LP-faithful renditions of “Keep the Streets Empty for Me,” “If I Had a Heart” and Plunge closer “Mama’s Hand,” did the tempos slow into a powerfully effective comedown.
Taken as a whole, the show was a marvelous spectacle whose North American shelf-life will be all too brief: after Sunday’s second Brooklyn show, only a single D.C. date remains on the East Coast. If you’re on the fence about trekking out to one, it’s worth the trip. Here’s hoping it won’t be another eight years before we get the chance to see more, but as with all things in Dreijer’s orbit, there’s little certainty as to a next move.