“Hey freaks!” beams Kavus Torabi as he bounds onstage. “How’s it collapsing?” Yes indeed.
Knifeworld’s guitar-playing frontman and multi-tasking musical dynamo opens with a sly quote from classic hipster-bashing TV comedy Nathan Barley. It’s a good start, hinting that an evening of impish musical mischief lies ahead. A promiscuous collaborator, from the Cardiacs to Gong to Guapo, Torabi is clearly in frisky mood midway through a short UK tour with his eight-piece groove machine of psychedelic prog-funk and tempo-shifting free-jazz sorcery.
Nestled discreetly between run-down pubs and faceless office blocks on the eastern edge of the city centre, the Exchange is one of Bristol’s newer venues. It looks anonymous from the street, but feels homely and welcoming inside, with wooden floors and poster-splashed walls. Knifeworld have pulled a mixed crowd of around 100 people, mostly male and middle-aged, but not exclusively. Some sport Cardiacs T-shirts in deference to Torabi’s five-year stint with Tim Smith’s English prog-punk originals, others lean towards vintage hippie or goth plumage. On a wooden bench near the stage, a man in a business suit slumps with head in hands, a position he maintains for the whole show.
Knifeworld play a muscular but not quite incendiary set. They open with High/Aflame, whose droning introduction and choppy guitar shudders eventually settle into a propulsive krautrock chug. The Wretched Fathoms offers a punishing rodeo ride of rhythmic convulsions and contortions. The Orphanage is fast and crunchy one minute, slow and trippy the next. Torabi remains the livewire focal point and musical ringmaster throughout, though he shares vocal duties with glockenspiel-tickling Melanie Woods and brass player Chloe Herington. Towering over her, Herington’s bassoon is a magnificent steampunk contraption. In an ideal universe, every band would have a bassoon player.
Torabi expresses amazement that so many people have turned up to see him perform instead of Voivod, who are playing across town. He also sets up a running joke about Knifeworld’s “pretend new album”, Home Of The Newly Departed, an anthology of archive EP tracks which provides much of tonight’s menu, from the abrupt punk-metal jabber of Pilot Her to the swaggering glam-rock histrionics of In A Foreign Way and the churning sea-shanty undulations of The Prime of Our Decline.
Knifeworld’s molten musical maximalism and verbose, surreal, stream-of-consciousness lyrics make for a rich feast. But their delivery lacks focus at times, possibly because Torabi has been sapping his creative juices with outside collaborations and side projects. Of course, it would be unfair to expect the blast-furnace mania of the Cardiacs from his current band. But they can still muster their own brand of inspired delirium, especially on record. A few more of these wild eruptions would have been welcome at this show.
That said, the epic finale Don’t Land On Me is a roaring symphony of cosmic funk and gushing pastoral psych-folk. Even on an off night, Knifeworld’s kaleidoscopic cacophony makes most conventional guitar bands sound like monochrome dullards. At their best, they are a glorious head-on collision between precision and anarchy, weapons-grade virtuosity and exhilarating chaos. How’s it collapsing? Loudly, my dear chap. Very loudly.
I Am Lost
The Wretched Fathoms
In A Foreign Way
Send Him Seaworthy
The Prime Of Our Decline
Destroy The World We Love
Me To The Future Of You
Don’t Land On Me