Fever Ray @ Webster Hall, NYC 9/28/09
Webster Hall gets shit for its prices, its show times, its subterranean club that pipes booty bass up through the floorboards at intimate shows. But you can’t argue the Hall’s landmark status, or at least not if Karin Andersson keeps making it her exclusive haunt on trips to the city. Webster only holds something like 1400 people, but at times it felt larger, like every spoke in the NYC music community was there — music writers, neighborhoodies, Avey Tare, Angel Deradoorian, Blonde Redhead, St. Vincent — and if they weren’t, there’s always tonight’s show to round out the wheel. And the Hall is often harrowed, but honestly it’s perfectly calibrated in sound and scope for this sort of show: smoke machines front and back, belly-buckling bass and pristine prerecords, vintage lamps and freakish folksy and kabuki-inspired costumes like some half-remembered sake nightmare from your grandparents living room. And lots of frickin’ laser beams (Austin Powers reference but also Jenny Slate reference — relevant). Andersson’s last stop here as the Knife with her brother Olaf capitalized on the house soundsystem and vaguely theatrical design well, too, using a forward-stage scrim to mystify and obscure the duo’s avant art piece. But where the Knife was filtered and visually restrained, Fever’s rays pierced and poured out, beams of light fanning out over the crowd, a live percussionist and a guitarist with guitar-hero posturing, even visible moments with Karin’s face. Like, real face.
The various costumes and imagery were leitmotifs from Fever Ray’s four super fantastic videos (a fifth is planned); whether they or the live show came first appears to be some chicken-egg shit according to her recent (and very read-worthy) interview with the Voice, so let’s just say they’ve informed each other. There wasn’t a narrative per se, but it was more dynamic than the Knife’s show, and you’d hear people afterward comparing this shot favorably to that last one. Narrative or no, it did unfold with perfect symmetry: two bold lasers shot out before fanning out to open the show, and the myriad rays collapsed again into two simple beams of light to close it. House lights up, everybody left — partially wondering what they just watched, fully aware they had fodder for half-remembered nightmares all their own. It was spectacular, in every sense.