SHOW REVIEW/PHOTOS: Knifeplay Album Release Show
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WRITTEN BY: Fletcher Gamwell
PHOTOS BY: Erika Cutaia
It was October 27th, the Thursday leading into Halloween weekend. The night was crisp, there was excitement in the air, and the vibes were spooky. Entering Ukie Club, I saw attendees of the night’s show donned in Halloween costumes socializing before the music began. The elevated stage at the front of the space was cascading in red light, reminiscent of the classic Halloween film Suspiria. A fog machine was poised just off-stage, amplifying the ghostly atmosphere. The tone was set for the show.
The first openers were charming Philly-based band Yung Sham, decked out in quirky Halloween costumes. Their set consisted of high-energy and kooky rock, highlighted by a lively sing-along cover of The Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends.” Following Yung Sham, the music project Elvis Depressedly kept the show rolling.
While Elvis Depressedly is a band comprised of multiple collaborators, frontman Mathew Lee Cothran performed as a solo act in a blood-stained jumpsuit. Depressedly presented his unique style, meshing indie pop, slowcore rock, and emo lo-fi with some vulnerable lyricism about mental health and family relationships. Throughout his set, Depressedly also used humor to connect and engage with the crowd. After a dramatic final song and an announcement of an upcoming album, there was a short break before Knifeplay took to the stage.
Knifeplay’s performance at Ukie Club was their first since the release of their sophomore full-length album, Animal Drowning, and was dedicated to being an album release show. They played through the track list from start to finish, pointedly being careful not to rush from song to song. The album’s sound washed over the audience, and listeners were able to conceptually appreciate the work as a whole. While not on the recording of the album, Johanna Bauman of solo project Janna sang with frontman TJ Strohmer and played guitar during the performance. Bauman’s voice intertwined with Strohmer’s to create aching harmonies over the blurry instrumentation.
Right off the bat, “Nobody,” the opening track on the album, displayed soaring strings and arpeggiating guitar notes. It dripped in loneliness, a theme that appears on multiple songs in the album. Tracks “Promise” and “Deserve” added additional heaviness in which Strohmer told the audience that “there’s no such thing as growing up” and “we’re gonna get what we deserve.” “Ryan Song,” a track near the end of the album, was comparably minimal in its instrumentation with a folksy twang underlying an introspective piano performance. While still brimming with melancholy lyricism, it was a nice and peaceful interlude in the performance.
As Knifeplay approached the end of the show, a chorus dressed as a convent of nuns gathered onstage behind the band for the grand finale. The title of the final track, “Cold Rain,” succeeds in describing how the song sounds. It is barren, cold, and misty. TJ Strohmer pulled out a bow suited for a stringed instrument and dragged it across his guitar strings, producing an entangled orchestra of notes and harmonic overtones. The nun chorus was angelic, front and center in the music until the reverberating guitars gradually overtook the voices.
Eventually, it all came to a wailing close. As the band members each placed their instruments on the ground, still producing an echoing sound, they individually walked off the stage. Finally, after the noise and feedback was left to drone away, the sound was cut off to utter silence, and the audience came back down to earth.
In a live setting, the wide and full soundscapes performed on the album are otherworldly. It was an incredibly dense performance instrumentally, but it held a strong pulse throughout and never felt disorganized. It would have been easy to get lost in all the noise, but Knifeplay effectively kept a sense of direction within the mist. It was a great show, and an excellent album release.