Nearly a decade on from her self-titled debut album as Fever Ray, The Knife‘s co-creator Karin Dreijer has changed just about everything. Ten years ago, her shows were centred on an obscured figure draped in black cloth, her face unseen under a hood, with rare and often claustrophobic appearances anonymous, impregnable. Dreijer in 2018, showcasing long-awaited second album Plunge, could scarcely be more different.
Tonight, amid an exuberant all-female on-stage tribe who appear one by one like a parade of wrestling contestants, Dreijer prowls about with the confident movements of a panther. Her close-cropped blonde hair, panda eyes, accentuated make-up around her mouth and a t-shirt proclaiming “I heart Swedish girls” (with the ‘Swedish’ pointedly crossed out) give her the appearance of being simultaneously otherworldly and larger than life, yet humanly vulnerable. With this bold-as-brass get-up she’s somewhere on a spectrum between Robyn’s evil twin and Papa Lazarou of The League of Gentlemen. Fever Ray is obscured no more.
The Troxy’s toilet doors are festooned with messages supporting their all-gender use, with words underlining Fever Ray’s support for trans rights. She furthers this with an on-stage message calling to mind feminist manifestos of earlier times, asking “tall people…(to) stand back and give space for the shorter ones. Women to the front.” None of this should really need to be said, but for the beneficiaries of such words, there’s doubtless unconfined joy to see that, yes indeed, the toilets on both sides of the venue are used by everyone, and tall men – hi from the sound desk! – are standing well back.
Plunge and its singles’ videos go some way to spelling out what has changed in the time between these two records; Dreijer has been the wife and the mother – she’s dropped her marital surname Anderson – and now she’s finding time for herself, and celebrating freedom, friendship and everything femme. While her voice, forever breaking and expressive, is instantly recognisable, the music is more varied, with some of it bordering on carnivalesque.
They open with An Itch, all echoey and cavernous, with two sets of percussion declaring a war of intent. Dreijer glowers at her audience, her expression a mix of expectation of idolisation, and that she will decide which of her idolisers to eat first. She’s affirmatory, ballsy, joyous and iconic all at once. The song’s synth loop changes its notes as it circles around, obliques out, moves in for the kill again. In every way it’s a statement of intent.
Dreijer’s assortment of backing dancers and musicians, all of whom sport ‘a look’, some traditionally feminine, some – especially in the case of the lady in the orange he-man outfit – decidedly more masculine. They move in their own worlds and into each other’s, enjoying the presence and feel of each other, moving around and among and on, sharing vocal duties and poses with an abundance of grins. In amongst it all IDK About You is a quickfire highlight, the dancehall rhythm whipping the place up a gear as everyone on stage goes wild.
Not all of the new album hits the spot so rhythmically, but nor is it meant to; Mustn’t Hurry spells this out. The set seems geared to reveal layers one at a time, but by the time we get to thrillingly down-and-dirty album opener To The Moon And Back the room seems very much in the erogenous zone, despite the decision to leave the house lights up throughout. There are delighted singalongs to the mic-drop lyric “I want to run my fingers up your pussy,” in what sounds like a shared moment of conscious directness, and the music’s party vibe matches the embracing of freedom evident in the lyrics.
The new album’s most interesting music moment, Red Trails, has its arrangement switched about here to ditch the intense, passionate strings for accordion. But the drama of the moment is accentuated by one of the dancer-singers, resplendent in carnival-style folds of material and flapping it all in a range of scene-stealing poses. There’s also room to interlace material from the first album, some of it reworked almost beyond recognition. But Concrete Walls, If I Had A Heart and Keep The Streets Empty are as glorious tonight as they were first time round, even if in this set they take on quite different meanings and feelings.
Towards the end, lights first depict the trans flag, and then the rainbow flag, both to whoos, and this affirmatory, one-off artist takes her bows with her stage mates and departs. Karin Dreijer’s manifesto is – not least since #metoo – undeniable. That she can still back it with music moments that linger long in the mind suggests that, whatever becomes of The Knife in the future, we’re far from hearing the last of her.
Fever Ray played: An Itch, A Part Of Us, When I Grow Up, Musn’t Hurry, This Country, Falling, Wanna Sip, I’m Not Done, Red Trails, Concrete Walls, To The Moon & Back, Triangle Walks, IDK About You, Keep The Streets Empty For Me Encore: If I Had A Heart, Mamma’s Hand