As long as live music is still a thing, concertgoers will argue the merits of the early show versus the late show. Both have their advantages, but depending on your job, a later show means less chance you’ll miss out on a song or two because you’re tied up with work. How does the time of day influence the atmosphere of a show? For that matter, are some types of music better suited for certain hours than others? I mean, there must be a reason most concerts happen in the evenings—and before you argue that it’s bar sales, just take a look at sports events.
Which leads me to last night’s Fever Ray doubleheader at Metro. The solo project of Karin Dreijer (who previously masterminded boundary-bending Swedish electro-pop duo the Knife with brother Olof Dreijer), Fever Ray sold out its Chicago concert so far in advance that the venue added a second show with a door time of 6 PM.
Fever Ray’s 2009 staggering self-titled debut united audiences of electronic and experimental music, indie rock, and even heavy metal—in 2011 NME named its brooding lead single, “If I Had a Heart,” one of its “150 Best Tracks of the Last 15 Years,” and the song has also appeared in a variety of soundtracks, most notably in the opening credits of the History channel show Vikings. The album is dark, moody, and cinematic (though its lyrics deal mostly with motherhood and everyday life), with an overall atmosphere that’s sleek and controlled.
On last year’s Plunge, though, Dreijer made a sharp turn into extroversion with high-energy, upbeat tracks that merge electronic experimentation, noise, and global dance sounds, writing lyrics that celebrate queer sexuality and joyous self-discovery. Both records are beautiful, but Plunge is like Technicolor to Fever Ray‘s film noir.
The sophisticated, slow-burning sounds of Fever Ray’s debut record would’ve made for a compelling start to an evening, but I wondered if the crowd would already be primed for a dance party brimming with erotic energy when it was still basically happy hour. I had no doubt that Dreijer and her touring band would deliver the goods, but how fast could fans change gears out of their daily grind to delve into her fantastical world?
When I got to Metro—unfortunately about ten minutes into the set—my questions seemed validated. During down-tempo songs such as “Mustn’t Hurry,” the chatter of the crowd was so loud I tried a couple different spots to avoid it, eventually settling on the balcony. To be fair, the people standing closest to the stage were totally enthralled, but there was no way I could get up there!
Dreijer and her crew of five women—two singers and dancers and three musicians—all wore outlandish costumes that reminded me of kids playing dress-up, inventing outfits they imagined grown-up pop stars should wear, and also of superhero movies (singer Helena Gutarra had an inflatable muscle suit worthy of X-Men). They put on a hell of a show, but it was a little harder to engage with than I’d anticipated.
That feeling lasted through “This Country,” with its chorus of “This country makes it hard to fuck.” (At the late show, according to my colleague Philip Montoro, the crowd was in raptures from note one, and all but exploded with excitement at the end of the song.) Thankfully, Fever Ray won over even the most distracted by the second half of the set, which included the rager “IDK About You”—I don’t know how anybody could’ve managed to ignore singer Maryam Nikandish during “Red Tails,” when she delivered a dazzling dance routine by fluttering and undulating giant shimmery “wings” attached to her outfit.
As Fever Ray launched into “If I Had a Heart” during the encore, I couldn’t help but smile thinking about the crowd on their way to Metro for the late show—I already knew they were about to experience something amazing.