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Knifeworld at London's Bush Hall live review

Welcome to Knifeworld's trippy live world.

Knifeworld full band live on stage
(Image: © Kevin Nixon)

There’s a man dressed as a dog onstage. And a woman playing a bassoon. And trippy, viscous projections that have turned the stately Bush Hall into some sort of acid-infused womb. Yes this is a rock show, but not as you know it.

The man in the dog suit (producer Bob Drake) doesn’t stick around, but everything else does. Purveyors of unwieldy prog, commanders of era-spanning psychedelia, and merry champions of unfashionable woodwind instruments, Knifeworld don’t make music like other bands. Since appearing in 2009 with the elegantly named single Pissed Up On Brake Fluid – after former Cardiacs man (and current Gong singer/guitarist) Kavus Torabi decided his solo project needed more legs – the eight-piece have occupied a strange, at times baffling world of jerky alt rock, sax and psychedelic prog.

(Image credit: Kevin Nixon)

Their latest record, Bottled Out Of Eden, is the most cohesive yet. Still bonkers in places, but satisfyingly so, with enough solid rock hooks and Floydian scale to elevate their game. And because there are eight of them – friendly-looking in varying degrees of face glitter and psych chic – you have the sense of watching a surreal, homemade but still very skilled circus. But then Knifeworld are here to deliver a show, in the most unconstrained, cheerfully avant-garde respect.

After a support set of furiously gung-ho anarchy from The Cesarians, everyone’s brains and general sense of musical normality are so scrambled we’re ready for pretty much anything. What we actually get, once Knifeworld get going, is one of our headliner’s most ‘accessible’ songs yet, High/Aflame – an uplifting, melodious mesh of prog, contemporary rock drive and hippified allure. This veers into the heavier, less old school likes of I Am Lost, sparkly splashes and Steven Wilson-ish avant-rock – as well as quirkier, jerkier spates of psychedelia. Indeed, Knifeworld’s psychedelic schtick is by no means bound to the 60s and 70s, echoing the vibe of Porcupine Tree and Devin Townsend as much as Yes and ELP. Some of it’s still unwieldy and clearly not for everyone, but for the Knifeworld-ites gathered it’s a delight.

Knifeworld are here to deliver a show, in the most unconstrained, cheerfully avant-garde respect.

Inevitably a huge part of their appeal lies in Kavus himself. Exotically handsome with his dark features and white suit, he’s so damn likeable you can’t help but warm to his band. Beaming pop-eyed through bird’s-nest locks, he says things like “Are we apes or fallen androids? Or both?” and “Shall we have a ‘sway-pit’, instead of a mosh-pit?”, there’s something liberatingly cool-but-uncool about him – the kind of easy individuality that makes a frontman enigmatic but relatable.

Ballad Dream About A Dream, provides a sweeter, softer moment, and Destroy The World We Love is lapped up enthusiastically. Me To The Future Of You brings closure, and the band disperse to sign merch and greet fans – totally enamoured with the odd yet welcoming world Kavus and co have created.

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Polly Glass

Polly is Features Editor at Classic Rock magazine, where she commissions regular pieces and longer reads (including new band coverage) and writes a few things. She also writes for Louder, Prog and Metal Hammer, and talks about songs on the 20 Minute Club podcast. In her spare time she writes fiction and cooks.