If you’re an educated, thoughtful individual who holds any respect for The Knife as either a musical or a political entity, then I strongly recommend that you avoid attending their current live incarnation, the Shaking The Habitual Show.
Touting itself as an ostensibly political piece of performance art espousing socialist, feminist, and queer ideology, the show could be more accurately described as a very messy mashup of a poorly organized teen rave, a high school theater/dance recital, and a misguided cult recruitment session.
Musical offerings are dismal. The majority of songs are either played directly from the studio album, or from prerecorded ‘live’ tribal arrangements of popular tracks designed specifically for the tour. Even those that aren’t entirely playback still contain a good deal of pantomimed instrumentation. Throughout the duration of the show, very little is actually being played or sung for the audience. You’d be better off listening to the album version elsewhere. At least you’d avoid the goofily choreographed shiny pajama dancing. Or maybe that’s your thing.
Politically, the show is even more of a disappointment. For a band that’s been very clear and direct about its intentions–aligning itself with great thinkers like Michel Foucault and Judith Butler–its presentation of any related ideology seems flagrantly juvenile and misinformed. At best.
The opening number (DEEP Aerobics) was an immediate turnoff in this area. Host Miguel Gutierrez claims genderlessness for himself and the entire audience before asking the ‘boys’ to bounce their balls and the ‘ladies’ to do likewise with their tits. He shouts negations at vague, unnamed concepts of authority. And he tells us all that ‘the people will lead, and the leaders will follow’ in the midst of what is essentially a trite call-and-answer political rally established for the sake of entertainment. It’s hypocritical, it’s childish, and it undermines the principals of free thought and acceptance that are central to modern socialist, feminist, and queer ideology.
Sadly, the main event isn’t much of an improvement. Political-leaning lyrics that had impact on the album are dumbed down by being paired with lowest-common-denominator gestures like dry humping and feigned urination. There’s drag, there’s voguing, there’s miming, you’ve seen it all at your local gay bar, and it was probably done better. None of this content is challenging, nor boundary-pushing, nor is it particularly outside the comfort zone of a mainstream audience (which any effective political statement should be). It’s not like you’re performing this in rural Mississippi in the 1950s. You’re hitting large, modern, metropolitan cities in an age where even those outside of the queer community have probably been to a drag show, a rave or two, and are aware of pro-queer, feminist artists like Lady Gaga and Peaches.
The Knife is (was?) one of my favorite groups in the current musical landscape, and Shaking the Habitual is one of the best albums of 2013. I went to this show expecting something that reached the bar set by those sentiments. Instead, I was met with a lackluster musical performance that carried about as much political integrity as the aimless preteen impulses behind Muse’s masturbatory 2009 release, The Resistance. There are no ideas presented here that couldn’t be gleaned from skimming the chapter headings of an introductory text on post-structuralist or queer theory. I can see how the show could have the potential to entertain, but it certainly isn’t going to change any minds, or even incite any sort of meaningful discourse. At least not in anybody who isn’t already part of the discussion.
I hope that The Knife puts a bit more thought into their next live outing.