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Live Review and Photos: Lykke Li and First Aid Kit, November 7, 2011, Fox Theater – Pomona, CA

Photos by Philip Cosores

Now in her mid-20s and about half a decade into her wildly successful career as an alt-pop star, Lykke Li has a lot of live experience under her belt, and the step up in production value that she’s taken for her tour in support of Wounded Rhymes shows that this is an area she clearly cares about. Connection with fans is something that’s important to her and is reiterated throughout any of her live performances, but for even the most dedicated and seasoned performers there are still nights when you can tell that they’re not entirely into it. Lykke Li’s performance at the Fox Theatre seemed to be one of these occasions for the young Swede, who seemed delighted to be back in the Los Angeles area, but her performance revealed a certain level of jadedness. Fortunately, Lykke has an impressive array of extremely talented musicians accompanying her, who never let the baton drop entirely and kept things running almost entirely smoothly.

Opening act First Aid Kit are fellow Swedes and have been touring for the better part of the year supporting Bright Eyes, and that pairing seems to be a better match for their melancholic folk pop. However, anyone who appreciates a good melody or is simply a Swedish music groupie (there must be some by now considering how much good music comes out of there) would have enjoyed their set. The duo played old favourites like “The Hard Believer,” while taking the opportunity to air new songs from their upcoming album, The Lion’s Roar. Their range of songs went from simple autoharp and vocals, to more fully-formed renditions with a drummer, and each showcased the sisters’ amazing talent for harmonies. All in all it was an impressive display from the duo, who seem more than ready to head out on a proper headlining tour of their own, which they will surely do in the wake of the release of The Lion’s Roar next year.

From the opening music, delayed entrance, and blinding flashing lights that welcome the start of Lykke Li’s performance, it is evident that this is a stage show produced for big stages, and the Fox Theatre must be one of the biggest she’s taken it to yet. The opening of the set couplet of “Jerome” and “I’m Good I’m Gone,” are carefully chosen; they immediately ramp up the energy, please fans of both albums and manage to do this without wasting any of her biggest hits straight away. The focus of these two songs was entirely on Lykke, who shuffled along the front of the stage encouraging the crowd to get involved and often swooping her head up and down dramatically (it’s no wonder that she cancelled some dates due to a bad back earlier this year!). The clinical nature of these opening songs was broken at the end of “I’m Good, I’m Gone” when almost everyone onstage took up some kind of percussion to smash out the conclusion.

“Sadness is a Blessing” and “I Follow Rivers” gave us the first opportunities to really marvel at what the band brought to the performance with all sorts of backing singing and a fuller sound. Older track “Dance Dance Dance” sounded undeniably weak amidst these more muscular numbers, but seemingly knowing this, the song has been revamped to break out midway into a full-on dance number. So far so good, but the middle portion of the set really lost a lot of momentum and highlighted Lykke’s weariness vocally. Inviting First Aid Kit back to the stage to sing backing vocals in a gospel-like rendition of “Silent My Song” was a beautiful and standout moment of the night, but the sisters’ vocals outshone Lykke’s easily. Going solo for the next song “I Know Places,” emphasized the sadness and hollowness of this beautiful song, but some of the emotion seemed to be lacking in the performance. The band then covered “Unchained Melody,” a song which is practically uncoverable anyway, but seemed to really lack any spirit on this occasion. “Little Bit” was stopped prematurely with Lykke claiming “Twin Peaks is in the house,” and saw her wandering offstage, and returning shortly after without offering an explanation to the audience. This didn’t strike the audience as entirely random since she seemed to have been distracted for the previous couple of numbers anyway.

The night took an upturn at “Rich Kid Blues,” which breathed some energy back into the performance; with the whole stage bathed in blood-ret light the spunkiness of the song really shone through, but the breakdown into The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” which months back when I first saw her seemed like a moment of pure inspiration, now seemed tired, with Lykke leaving the stage once more and not drumming or dancing along as she had done previously. The main set-closing duo “Youth Knows No Pain” and “Get Some” are two songs that can rely on the pure strength of their catchiness and danceability to get any audience pumped up, and this was no exception, leaving the crowd screaming for more.

The beefed-up version of “Unrequited” that has been closing her encorees since the release of Wounded Rhymes was thoroughly impressive once again (although she did stop the song mid-way to profess that the audience show “peace, love and understanding”). As they say, always leave them on a high note, and that is certainly what Lykke Li did here. On the way out I heard some fans exclaiming that the performance was “amazing,” but I was less convinced. People who haven’t seen Lykke Li perform previously on this tour will have left satisfied, but for the rest of us, Lykke Li’s performance on this occasion was a victim of the extremely high standards she’s set for herself.

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