Supporting her new album, Wounded Rhymes, with an autumn US tour, Lykke Li made her way to Chicago’s Vic Theatre on Monday night, November 14th. I have been a fan of Li ever since I heard her hit single, “Little Bit“, off of her debut album, Youth Novels. Her songs–ranging from upbeat pop anthems to brooding doleful ballads–and lyrics (which I often find myself relating to), always strike a chord with me depending on my mood. However, I had yet to see the Swedish chanteuse perform live. I am not going to lie: my expectations for the sold out show–perhaps influenced by my excitement–were set high. Though I had no way of knowing exactly what to expect, I made my way to the venue fully aware that there was a chance for disappointment.
Thankfully, my expectations were in fact surpassed. Following the opening act, First Aid Kit, (a Swedish sister-duo that is definitely worth checking out), the show began with a heavy dose of foggy mist and an achromatic strobe light show, playing off of the simple black decor and atmospheric intro, the likes of which I have never quite witnessed before (and I have seen my fair share of shows over the years). The mood inducing tease was a fitting segue into the brooding first song of the set, “Jerome“. Li, along with her 5-piece band, graced the stage completely adorned in black. Unlike most of her young, scantily clad female contemporaries, Li foregoes the need to create an ultra-sexualizd persona on stage, dressed head to toe in a loose black sheath, hair tucked back into her turtleneck, paired with billowy pants, blending in with the surrounding black draping and creating a subtle, yet powerful presence. I find this to be truly refreshing. At the same time, her understated sex appeal is not unnoticed. The all ages crowd consisted mainly, to my own surprise, of men in there mid-20s to upper 40s. By contrast, the well dressed females in the crowd were a tad younger, ranging from late teens to early 30s.
What is most captivating about Lykke Li, however, is her haunting voice and the energy she brings to the stage. She exudes so much emotion, filling every corner of the venue. On Wounded Rhymes, Li explores the same themes of love and heartbreak present on her debut album, but on a more mature and dramatic level. Backed by echoing harmonies, heavy percussion, and the organ, the album is one of contrast between powerful, rhythmic beats and vulnerable, soft melodies. The song “Sadness is a Blessing” is a perfect example of this contrast. Li has taken a heavy subject matter, one of the most common of human emotions–sadness–and created an ode of exultation and acceptance. In this almost orchestral song, Li sings “Sadness is my boyfriend/Oh, sadness I’m your girl”, personifying this emotion and fully embracing it. Similarly in “Love Out of Lust“, Li goes beyond wallowing in ones wounds, exploring the other side–hope–as well. On “Get Some“, Li nonchalantly and boldly belts out “I’m your prostitute, you gon’ get some”–blunt words, masked by a coy, playful and sweet voice…well, almost. Despite the scandalous statement, the crowd danced on, singing along in unison to the cheeky anthem, almost as if “Get Some” was their battle cry. On songs like “Youth Knows No Pain” and “Rich Kid Blues“, she joins her band–drumsticks in hand–violently thrashing against nearby percussions, creating sheer noise.
Suddenly, with her signature moody purr, Li effortlessly transitions into mellow, stripped-down ballads, such as her acoustic rendition of the classic, “Unchained Melody“, which brought tears to my eyes. Her power, in my opinion, rests in her captivating, otherworldly voice, best showcased on slower songs, such as this one, along with “I Know Places” and “Silent My Song”. Yes, it sometimes cracks, but it is in these moments of imperfection that she attains perfection as an artist. It is in these cracks where hidden emotions surface, striking the listener on a deeper, visceral level.
The show actually closed with one of Li’s ballads, (as well as one of my favorite songs off of the album), “Unrequited Love“. Being a slower song, backed by classic shoo-wop harmonies, I was a little surprised that it was selected for the encore. However, Li played with the audience during this otherwise depressing song, taunting us as being the source of her unrequited love, while we nodded in an effort to exclaim “NO”. Nevertheless, with a song such as this, one is overcome not only by the emotion of the simple melancholic melody and the all too familiar story presented in the lyrics, but in that haunting voice, that voice which sets Lykki Li apart from her peers.
Photograph courtesy of lykkeli.com
Videos courtesy of youtube.com
2. I’m Good, I’m Gone
3. Sadness is a Blessing
4. I Follow Rivers
5. Dance, Dance, Dance
6. Silent My Song (with First Aid Kit)
7. I Know Places
8. Unchained Melody (The Righteous Brothers cover)
9. Little Bit
10. Love Out of Lust
11. Rich Kid Blues
12. Youth Knows No Pain
13. Get Some
14. Unrequited Love