I have something of a love/hate relationship with The Knife's performance at The Fillmore in Denver last night. The secretive Swedish electronic act's concert was a lush and complex production, with elaborate and compelling visuals that brought the most out of their music. It was also more of a modern ballet or performance art piece than it was a concert, and in this age of laptop jockies and pop singers fueled by autotune, I go to concerts to see the act of people physically creating music.
A dozen members of the duo strutted the stage in coordinated jumpsuits, executing choreography keyed to action-packed lighting cues and the dulcet tones of the more disco elements of The Knife's catalog. It was strange and beautiful and savage and unexpected, even with the occasionally dubious dance background of some of the cast. There was a brief piece of slam poetry and some wicked electro-sax.
Surreal as the dance elements were, The Knife was at its best during the 25 percent of the show when the band — and the many members of its supporting cast — went to town on their instruments, as the band clearly understands the importance of visual presentation, using multiple levels of percussion and drumming to capture the kineticism of the sounds. Even the melodic instruments that would normally be relegated to a keyboard were played via a drum sampler to better depict them in a physical sense. Were the performance group Stomp a pop band, or were Japanese Taiko music focused on electro-pop, it might well have looked like The Knife's instrumental process. As much as I loved seeing them play, I kind of hated that it comprised such a small portion of the show, even if the rest of the show was wholly compelling.
It was also fascinating/infuriating for the band to avoid much of its signature material, especially "Heartbeats," one of the most iconic and recognizable songs of the new millennia. The music fan in me — especially the part that saw the video below — ached to get lost in beautiful melancholy of its singalong chorus. But at the same time, I appreciated the no-apologies position that one shouldn't rest on previous successes, and that it is the artist's role to challenge the audience with the new and unheard rather than just give them "the hits." At least I assume that's why they didn't play a song any other band on Earth would give a pinky-finger to be able to close with every night.
But that didn't appear to be much of an issue for the rest of the audience, who hung on every awkward shimmy and shake, and many of whom stuck around for the after-hours dance party at The Fillmore.
Would I see The Knife again? Absolutely. Would I have any idea what to expect from that performance? No way. And Heartbeats or not, instruments or not, that's what makes live music — or live performance art/slam poetry/Swedish dance party USA — thrilling to see.