You’d be forgiven for expecting a mere dance party from the Knife’s “Shaking the Habitual” show at the House of Blues on Monday.
All the makings were there — bright lights, feral beats, scalding bass, a full floor — but the Swedish sibling duo of Olof Dreijer and Karin Dreijer Andersson aren’t keen on expectations.
Nine additional bodies took the stage in shimmering unisex jumpsuits, conquering the silver stage’s many risers and platforms. They danced, swung hair, shook shakers that looked like neon meteorites, sang, clapped, and played instruments that could have come from the cantina in “Star Wars.” At the midpoint, Andersson delivered a rhapsodic poem proclaiming her desire for a post-gender body, “in every color” with “no internal or external.”
Stony expressions were few among the happily dancing throngs, but they registered the same sour betrayal that came rumbling from the Coachella Valley when the Knife played there two weeks ago: This isn’t what we came for.
Which, of course, was the point.
“Shaking the Habitual,” the album, is as smitten with Spivak and Foucault as with Salt-N-Pepa and Fugazi. In grand sweeps, it alternately refines and dismantles the duo’s utilitarian penchants: stark drums, the tantric scrape of Andersson’s voice, and grafts of noise that threaten to pull the songs apart before they have a chance to end.
As such, the “Habitual” show itself was a challenge, in more than one way. A band statement clarified that the show was about “disrespecting borders” between “fake and real” or “Buchla and bongo,” and indeed, the Knife targeted the very premises of a concert itself (e.g. the role of “lead vocalist” was dissolved into the fluid responsibilities of the group, even as pantomime).
This experiment thrived during songs like “A Tooth for an Eye” and “Raging Lung,” with the dancers lending unexpected joy to the wrest ’n’ writhe of the music. Other times, the choreography pulled precariously away from the music; I blushed recalling “Stool Boom” from “Waiting for Guffman” at one point, and the snapping Jets of “West Side Story” at another.
As a gesture, this celebratory and sustained attack on boring (or altogether absent) art is fresh and noble, and “Shaking the Habitual” was frequently a gripping rally against assumptions of all sorts. But in the Knife’s relentless pursuit of collapse, too often they nearly brought it upon themselves.Michael Andor Brodeur can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MBrodeur.