Roseland Theater, Portland, OR

It began like a grotesque fashion show. As Fever Ray (aka Karin Dreijer) and her all-female band took the stage for Portland’s sold-out concert at the Roseland, each musician strutted out as if on the catwalk dressed up in garish costumes. The women appeared one at a time, flexing and mugging for the audience before turning to take their places on the stage. Last to appear was Dreijer herself, head shaved bald, black and pink paint smeared around her eyes and lips to give her a monstrous look. The singer sported a T-shirt that announced, “I ♥ Swedish Girls,” except bright orange tape covered “Swedish” with an X. White, high-top wrestling boots hugged Dreijer up to her thighs. When she danced, the singer maintained a scary smile, a rictus of sexual desire. It was like Madonna’s Girlie Show playing at the bawdiest BDSM party in the world.

Eight years has elapsed since Dreijer put out an album under the Fever Ray moniker. The Knife, the band that catapulted the Swedish singer to international acclaim, came to an end. Dreijer’s marriage crumbled. Her newest record, Plunge, documents Dreijer’s post-divorce journey as she embraced her queer side. In many ways, the transition isn’t a surprise. With the Knife, Dreijer had always been outspoken about white male privilege and how it controls the music industry. What is surprising is just how playful Plunge and its resulting stage show feels.

Opening with new song “An Itch,” Dreijer quickly established that her concert would be a highly choreographed dance party. Decked out like a clutch of female superheroes, Dreijer and her band moved through a 75-minute, 16-song set that catered exclusively to both Fever Ray records. Yet, Dreijer cut away the gloom that shrouded her self-titled record, retrofitting older songs such as “When I Grow Up” with swifter tempos and lush production. Dreijer’s band pumped up the crowd by inciting us to dance and cheer. Flanked by two backing singers, Dreijer often ceded lead vocals to her cohort, moving away from the spotlight to do some shambolic dancing.

Just like Madonna’s Girlie Show, sexuality played a major role in Fever Ray’s concert. At one point, Dreijer and her two singers rubbed and grinded against one another, moving into various three-way positions. At the show’s most decadent, one of the singers explicitly slipped her hand up from behind Dreijer, rubbing her crotch over and over in sensuous motions. If female sexuality is intimidating, that wasn’t the sentiment at the Roseland that evenng. People cheered and egged on Dreijer as she draped her leg over one singer in an act of simulated cunnilingus.

The slower songs in the middle of the set – such as “Red Trails” – hit some bittersweet notes, adding emotional layer to the show. However, the true bangers such as “To the Moon and Back” and “Wanna Sip” really energized the ecstatic audience all the way up to “Keep the Streets Empty for Me.” Dreijer returned for a two-song encore (“If I Had a Heart” and “Mama’s Hand”) capping a set that did not overstay its welcome. And although most of the audience ignored the signs entreating us to keep our phones in our pockets and letting the ladies stand near the front, the photos and videoing was kept to a minimum.

If anything, Dreijer’s show proved the musician is stepping out of the shadow that covered her Knife and first Fever Ray project and into a more comfortable existence. Yes, she is still hiding behind creepy make-up and costumes, but the concert is as life-affirming as anything I’ve recently seen. At one point, Dreijer shouted, “Destroy nuclear/ Destroy boring.” She definitely has at least half of that mission statement licked.

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