This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to catch Lykke Li on tour at Portland's Wonder Ballroom. The Swedish indie singer recently released her sophomore album, Wounded Rhymes, but I was only vaguely familiar with Li's music and had not seen her live before. I wasn't sure what to expect (kazoos, what?) but was pleasantly surprised by the emotional tour de force that was Li's delivery.
The excitement was palpable when Lykke Li took the stage, framed by several hanging black drapes as the air around her filled with lights, fog and a throbbing bass. Li's voice soared through favorites off Wounded Rhymes and her previous full-length release, Youth Novels; unlike many singers, she sounded just as good live as, if not better than, on her recordings. She enunciated each word with the songs' feelings flying across her face: heartbreak, resignation, confidence, curiosity... Sometimes, she hid her face as if overcome. In short, Li clearly put her whole heart into her performance.
Her hair blew untamed over a large, black garment somewhere between a trench coat and a poncho. Having grown up on commercial pop, I kept expecting Lykke to whip the heavy clothing off to reveal something colorful and short, but that never happened, and her performance was better for it. The way in which Li shrouded herself reinforced the drama and intensity of the performance. (As a nice touch, she occasionally wrapped herself in one of the drapes, billowing black over billowing black.)
The crowd was calmer than I am used to seeing at concerts, especially for upbeat music. While there was some dancing going on, many concertgoers remained still and seemed reverential. One young woman near me appeared to be writing impromptu poetry. I could understand the sentiment; after all, why shouldn't we be inspired by the dramatic, unfamiliar world Li has allowed us to visit? Predictably, the liveliness (and sing-alongs) picked up when she performed her singles, such as "Little Bit," "Sadness is a Blessing," and the controversial "Get Some." Li rarely paused between numbers to rest or address the crowd, just barreled through song after song, maintaining the high level of energy in the building.
My only caveat: Anyone who has trouble with blinking lights may want to sit this one out. Despite the simplicity of the background, Lykke Li's show used the brightest, most intense strobes I have ever seen. At times, I found it impossible to even look at the stage. Thankfully, this was sporadic.
Check out Lykke Li's tour schedule to see when she'll be in your neck of the woods if you're a fan... or are open to becoming one. Li's passion just may win you over.
A "Little Bit" of Lykke Li by Kelsey Wallace
BitchTapes: The Queens of Swedish Pop by Ashley McAllister