Thursday, November 17th, 2011
Sadness Is A Blessing
Lykke Li and First Aid Kit at The Sound Academy in Toronto
Frank YangIt’s a little bit of bragging when I point out that our blogger posse had Lykke Li close out the second day of our Hot Freaks! party at SXSW 2008 before her star became ascendant. But the fact is that it was almost entirely Gorilla Vs Bear’s doing, with most of the rest of us having no idea who Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson was at the time. And not too many did, as only a modest number of people came out to Club DeVille to see play that afternoon. So you’d think that it would have been the perfect opportunity to get ahead of the curve on her, but the fact was I didn’t love her stuff and that opinion extended to her debut album Youth Novels; it was fine and all but hardly stopped me in my tracks. Which is why despite her having come through town a number of times between now and then, I’d not seen Lykke Li live since.
So if you choose to interpret my trekking down to the Sound Academy on Tuesday night to see her as meaning that I was stopped in my tracks by her second album Wounded Rhymes, well that might be a little hyperbolic but it’s not far off. I understand how Lykke Li’s breathy vocals and the coquettish tone of the lyrics were the source of Youth Novels‘ appeal for many, but to me they were the main points of complaint – the record felt slight, like it was all surface. Rhymes, on the other hand, with its combination of girl-group/doo-wop touchpoints, a dash of gospel and altogether rawer and heavier themes tapped into something much deeper both sonically and emotionally. Novels was flirtatious; Rhymes was lustful. Yeah I was going to see this record performed live.
Opening up this tour were fellow Swedes and sister folk act First Aid Kit – combined with Sunday night’s all-Icelandic bill, this was turning into quite the Scandinavian revue week. I’d seen them last Summer when they stopped in at the comfy and cozy Rivoli – about as diametrically opposed a venue from the cavernous Sound Academy as you can get. And yet without changing up their simple presentation – the Söderberg sisters switching up on guitar, keys and autoharp and harmonies and Mattias Bergqvist on drums – were more than able to step up to the occasion, sounding confident and punchy. In addition to drawing from their 2010 debut The Big Black & The Blue, they previewed material from their forthcoming second album The Lion’s Roar – out January 24 – and when heard side-by-side with the older material, it was remarkable how far they’ve come as songwriters, the new songs being both more melodic and dramatic at the same time. Though there was some headbanging, you couldn’t say they rocked – that’s not their game – but the did impress.
Lykke Li’s arrival was heralded by an extended strobe light and smoke machine intro which highlighted the sweeping black and white stage dressing for this tour, an aesthetic mirrored in her outfit for the night – a black robe/gown and dark eye make-up. “Witchy” and/or “goth” are not adjectives one would have typically thought to apply to Lykke Li, but there it was. Opening with “Jerome”, the depth and dramatics of the new record were clearly going to be translated to the stage with Lykke Li an exceptionally expressive and dynamic presence from the get-go.
Danciness is a key element of Lykke Li’s sound, but what sets her apart from others operating in that space is her reliance on live and acoustic instruments, particularly drums and percussion, and it was easy to get caught up in the pounding, rhythmic grooves she and her band created and her voice would ride upon. Though she’s not what you’d call a powerhouse singer, her delivery has a strength and soulfulness that’s irresistible and thankfully shuns your standard diva moves; on her cover of “Unchained Melody”, whereas other singers might have gone for a solo moment at its peak, Lykke Li instead turned to her band for multi-part harmonies that were unexpected and beautiful.
The set was split about evenly between the two albums but with the older material sonically beefed up to match the current aesthetic and all the better for it. And while I clearly favoured the new material, the sea of cellphones raised aloft during “Little Bit” was ample evidence that many of the fans there were old school. Excepting a couple moments of feedback, the sound throughout the night had been pretty good but as things moved towards the finale – perhaps in an attempt to make things even heavier – the bass began turning to mud on “Youth Knows No Pain” and sadly robbed it of its impact, only being salvaged by the extended percussion, chanting and megaphone-powered (and Kanye “Power”-quoting) coda. But things recovered enough that set closer “Get Some” satisfied and one-song encore of “Unrequited Love” the perfect, bruised cap on the evening. I now regret somewhat not keeping up with Lykke Li following that SXSW show and missing out on her more intimately-scaled performances, but if she keeps putting out records as strong as Wounded Rhymes, then this won’t be the last time I’ll be making up for lost time.
The National Post was also on hand for the show and have a review. And with this show done, First Aid Kit have announced their own headlining gig at The Great Hall on April 4 of next year.
Photos: Lykke Li, First Aid Kit @ The Sound Academy – November 15, 2011
MP3: Lykke Li – “Youth Knows No Pain”
MP3: Lykke Li – “Get Some”
MP3: First Aid Kit – “I Met Up With The King”
Video: Lykke Li – “Sadness Is A Blessing”
Video: Lykke Li – “I Follow Rivers”
Video: Lykke Li – “Get Some”
Video: Lykke Li – “Little Bit”
Video: Lykke Li – “I’m Good I’m Gone”
Video: Lykke Li – “Breaking It Up”
Video: First Aid Kit – “The Lion’s Roar”
Video: First Aid Kit – “Hard Believer”
Video: First Aid Kit – “I Met Up With The King”
Proving that Toronto’s appetite for things naked and famous shows no signs of abating, Kiwis The Naked & Famous will be back for their fourth show in less than a year, returning for an engagement at The Sound Academy on April 5 of next year; tickets $22.50 in advance.