Live: Fever Ray Overwhelm Webster Hall

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Who but Ryan Dombal?
Fever Ray
Webster Hall
Monday, September 28

After last Tuesday's Sunn O))) drone-a-thon, this was my second show in less than a week at which the smoke machines got rousing applause. Which got me thinking: Smoke gives good mood, sure. But it also makes documentation nearly impossible. As Scott Indrisek wrote in this week's Voice, "Scouring YouTube for evidence of what Fever Ray's show will look like is largely a confusing exercise." So when we clap at the hissing murk, we're clapping at confusion and the still-hanging-on here-ness of live concert going--i.e., if the sold out Webster crowd could barely make out Karin Dreijer Andersson and her four-person (thing?) band of inuit folk freaks in person, good luck streaming it via dumbed-down compression. Then again, with an outdoor smoking ban looming, maybe we're just clapping at the 2009 rebellion of simply seeing smoke in abundance anywhere. I dunno, I don't smoke.

But there's an art to the hazy concert: one that Fever Ray, with their optimal level of obstruction firmly in place, have perfected, and that Sunn O)))--who merely hide from the crowd--continue to parody. Also: Lasers were introduced five minutes into Fever Ray instead of an hour and thirty five minutes into Sunn O))). And: None of the Fever Ray costumes looked like they could've been purchased at a fake tree/potato sack emporium clearance sale for $5.99.

Considering the (albeit shrouded) visual overflow at a Fever Ray show--nine synchronized vintage lamps, outfits that meet halfway between Dark Crystal and a college seminar on African art, enough lasers to tear Tiesto's cornea-- it would seem easy to blow by the music. But there was some real playing going on last night--way more so than when Andersson took the Webster stage with her brother as the Knife a few years back. Whether it was the guitarist doing his best Prince while faux-bashing his instrument into the ground and letting it ring, or the Argentinian-born percussionist giving Fever Ray's synth-goth beats some Jacob Marley shimmy, no one involved was coasting off the pretty lights. And at the center was Andersson, who's more shaman-witch than ice queen.

Starting the set off in an immense fur coat, she was like a mummified ancient royal waking from hibernation. But then she took off the beast and hung it up right next to her in front of a well-positioned fan--for the remainder of the show, the floating coat was Andersson's bellowing shadow, an insanely creepy imaginary friend, and a limp ghost all in one. Stripped of her cover, Andersson gave herself up just enough to warm up the audience while still maintaining her anonymity. In the video for "Seven," the thirtysomething singer is played by a disturbing-looking elderly woman; live, Andersson's mannerisms aren't too far off from your halfway-there grandmother's. She shakes her hands ruefully and when she claps it's as if she's keeping time with her brain rather than the song. But for all of the "inhuman" and "alien" talk surrounding this walking enigma, the singer isn't above getting caught in the moment.

Forty-five minutes into the set, the show's first real front light was flipped on, revealing Andersson's face during "When I Grow Up." With the smoke dissipating and the straight-ahead bulb burning hotter, she stretched out her arms and launched into the song's climax. Recognizing their glimpse of clarity, the crowd roared. All that spotlight seemingly caused Andersson to stumble slightly, miss the beat, and make a "ugh, I fucked up" face for all to see. Soon after, though, she was once again in the dark, hitting notes and quaking with verve. Then she put her enormous coat back on. Then she walked off, covered in mist, right on cue.

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