Fever Ray - Albert Hall, Manchester

by Steve Rhodes Rating: Release Date:
Fever Ray - Albert Hall, Manchester
Fever Ray - Albert Hall, Manchester

It's September 2009 awaiting Karin Dreyer's first UK tour in her solo guise as Fever Ray. With reports from an earlier gig in London of audience members fainting, expectation is ahem feverish. A dimly lit stage with all sorts of furniture adornment is greeted by Karin appearing in what looks like a over-full rack of coats, suiting Karin's anonymous persona, as deep and dark electronica resonates through the crowd. The centrepiece though is the deep green lasers that hover ominously just above the audience's heads, intensifying the claustrophobia, all of which culminated is one of most memorable and best gigs I've ever seen.

Fast forward nearly 9 years and after the final death throes of The Knife, and promoting a new album, far more danceable than the previous, Karin is back in Manchester and produces another audiovisual treat, far removed from her previous performance but equally as intense and bewitching.

First up though is Bunny Michael, owning the stage with a set enriched in 80s Tech Noir. Continuing along the Peaches lineage, Bunny regularly yelps to a pulsing beat, semi-industrial, but dated as hell. Visually it's more interesting and slightly disturbing as during one song Bunny has a bear on a string and batters it into the stage whilst Born Slippy adorns the background. Sort-of rapping along to a throbbing beat is pretty much the order of the day, with the odd shout and screech, though the plentiful audience is mostly disinterested bar the odd few nodding heads. Bunny is enjoying herself, as booty-shaking appears at regular intervals. Though musically the set is pretty uneventful, there is more promise on the closing track, as an oriental flavour adds at least some variety, as the rapping remains entrenched in the late 80s, like Toni Basil on Acid.

Eagerly anticipated, Fever Ray, as expected, is an audio-visual treat. Rather than the moody coffee-table gloominess of old, tonight is a party, albeit it remains dystopian, complimented by a variance in neon lighting that plays a part in tonight's proceedings. Leading with two tracks from the new album Plunge, 'An Itch' and 'A Part of Us' are booming, electronic-drenched rave numbers that immediately get the audience moving, though neither feel imaginative enough or distinct from many other artists in an overcrowded genre. Arguably the best track on the debut album 'When I Grow Up' is also a bit disappointing as the tempo is sped up and a large part of the mystique is drowned out by beats of the two drummers, but this is a just a temporary blimp before the gig truly gets going.

Indeed much of the music is just an aside for the tremendous visual performance of Karin and her all-female backing band. Backed by several singers, one of whom, Helena Gutarra, in a striking fake bodybuilding outfit, and with the multi-instrumentalist Maryam Nikandish in a PVC outfit adorned with mouse ears, visual originality is definitely a key aspect to Fever Ray. But it's Karin herself who dominates, with a shaven head and The Joker make-up, with a smile that regularly borders on the beautifully intimidating. The movement between the three main singers is wonderfully choreographed, regularly entwining and caressing each other, and oozing with sexuality, the movement around the stage is sensual, occasionally aggressive and almost disturbing slow at times, like Bananarama gone beyond rogue, and is lauded by the crowd at every moment.

Plunge certainly provides the lion's share of the set tonight, with the live experience far surpassing expectations from a rather mixed record. 'Musn't Hurry' is wonderfully downbeat and dark, 'This Country' veers into latter-day Bjork territory, but is far more interesting and accessible, with it's key line “This country makes it hard to fuck” repeated over and over by the band, 'To The Moon And Back' resonates superbly with the crowd, but it's 'Red Trails' that's the highlight of the new material, with an unexpected appearance of an accordian, feeling akin to Dead Can Dance with its Middle-Eastern feel, which provides an excellent respite to the more beat-heavy numbers, made even better with a backing singer dancing effortlessly wearing a huge cape, that could make Eurovision proud.

As with 'When I Grow Up' other first album material occasionally struggles tonight, with the mystery of the dark undertones of tracks such as 'Triangle Walks' overwhelmed by beats and tempo, feeling more like an Adam and The Ants remix at times. 'I'm Not Done' is more successful, giving the feeling that this is a cunning ploy to get people dancing. If so, it definitely worked.

It's the slower older tracks though that are the real highlight tonight. 'Keep The Streets Empty For Me' is patient and hypnotic, enveloping the room, as the infamous lasers return, though as a more beautiful accompaniment rather than an intimidating one, but it's 'Concrete Walls' that truly stands out. All three vocalists combine wonderfully, with a variance in tones including a deeply distorted vocal that makes the track so memorable, as the two percussionists slowly sway their arms behind in expressive shapes. The whole movement of the band on stage is captivating and engrossing throughout.

The encore leads with an interesting version of 'If I Had A Heart' with Karin and her backing signers plucking acoustic guitars, like a campfire rendition of Kumbaya from the Upside Down. 'Mama's Hand' is a perfect closer to the whole set, with its early Warp Records meets Cosmic Baby analogue electronics giving the audience a final chance to dance and a superb finish to a glorious and memorable night, topped by the whole band emerging in their vivid glory at the front of the stage at its finish, to enraptured and prolonged applause.

It's certainly been worth the near decade wait to see Karin back in her Fever Ray guise and to witness how time has progressed and evolved Karin's outlook on the world. Here's to many more deeply original and entertaining evenings from a true maverick.

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