The Swedish sirens stop by Paris to play Le Trabendo so we sent Savannah Whaley along and here’s what happened…
Wandering through le Parc de la Villette on a bitingly cold night and finding Le Trabendo hidden in the trees felt like the perfect beginning to a night of dreamy folk and floating paisley kaftans. But First Aid Kit have grown up and become more commanding; their latest album, ‘The Lion’s Roar’ is a statement – even its title seems miles away from ‘The Big Black and the Blue’ of 2009. They still have the headbands and the layered dresses, but they also have a drummer (‘The Viking from the North’) and a strikingly more dramatic sound.
‘Idiot Wind’, a.k.a. Amanda Bergman (Yes – the wife of The Tallest Man on Earth – what a folk power couple…!), was a beautiful opening to the evening; her voice low and true and her often inaudible lyrics merged into each other and washed over the audience. The few words she spoke were equally indiscernible; face hidden under a cowboy hat and mass of curly hair (the Dylan influence clearly stretching beyond just her stage name), this was a woman who wanted to seem mysterious. But the effect worked, as those filtering in throughout her set to get a good spot for First Aid Kit were quickly captivated and a reverent hush filtered out to the noisier edges of the room.
This deference only intensified when First Aid Kit took to the stage. The crowd were in love before they’d played a note; the initial cheers only quietened by the dramatic soundscape that accompanied their entrance.
As silence settled the sisters’ harmonies filtered out, acapella, with the opening of ‘In the Morning’. This wistful, haunting beginning soon gave way to pounding drums in an amped-up version of ‘Blue’, the sisters disarmingly charming as they swayed along to their own Americana folk.
As Klara generally takes the lead with the vocals, Joanna spent a lot of time smiling out at us and practicing her perfected art of the sway-bend, the layers of fabric hanging from her wafting around her tall frame and competing with the swaying of her hair. It seems the sisters have not only developed their sound but have polished their 60s-folk-dream child image. And for the most part it works, all though the extreme head-banging during (too) many of the later songs went from being initially shocking, to funny, to a bit annoying (and also worrying as I honestly thought Joanna was going to brain herself on her microphone/ keyboard).
Despite the affectation, any pretention is broken down by the genuine beauty of their music. Klara’s voice is earthier than her older sister’s; it’s piercing and clear and carries the generally bitter-sweet allusion of their songs’ lyrics. Joanna’s, on the other hand, seems not to come from this world at all. It is yearning, almost primal, and – when she’s singing – transforms her into a captivating, mysterious creature that is almost impossible not to watch. It’s perhaps because of this that her onstage spoken-presence can be a bit jarring.
The role-play promotion of the new album went from being sweetly funny to a bit sickly, Joanna asking her sister ‘Do you think there’s something missing from your life?’ and describing the freebies and extra tracks on the deluxe-edition of the new album, accompanied by Klara’s dutifully exaggerated ‘Oh my god… woah… amazing…’. It was sweet and tongue in cheek, but I think the reason the moments of over the top performance didn’t work is because First Aid Kit’s best music is pared down, simple and truthful.
One of the most powerful moments throughout the evening was when Klara announced that they were going to ‘abandonner la technologie’, and they stood right at the front of the stage to sing ‘Ghost Town’, with no microphones. It was mesmerising, and the audience joined in with the refrain: ‘But I’ll come to you some day, to you.’ It was honestly exquisite, the tentative (and actually impressively tuneful) voices of the audience sounding like a chorus of children as they followed the lead of the beloved sisters up in front of them.
‘Wolf’ stood out amongst them all, the rolling drums making reminiscent of something north American Indian, and it ended dramatically in a furore of flashing lights and what sounded like high-pitched pipe music running alongside Klara and Joanna’s voices gone wild.
The band opened their encore with a cover of Paul Simon’s America – the song they’d performed for him when he received his Polar Music Prize – and their love of him (Klara asserting the fact that he ‘IS the best songwriter of all time’) was as evident as the crowd’s love of these Swedish sisters.
Their live act has certainly changed since I saw them last, a couple of summers ago in the sunny haze of a festival afternoon, and although I hope they don’t completely lose that more simple innocence, their new show is mature and impressive. They manage to strike up and command the fine balance between music that is meaningful and poignant, and music that is fun and infectious. And its success was evident on Wednesday night; the gig ended with a bang, with the crowd clapping, singing and dancing along to ‘King of the World’ as the Söderberg sisters jumped around like two girls playing at being rock stars.