Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Live Review: First Aid Kit @ 12 Bar Club, 15/12/08

The flyer says we’re in for ‘a night of new Swedish music’. At least I think it does, it’s in Swedish. And anyway, in truth, we’re here for First Aid Kit. It’s the duo’s first appearance in the UK tonight, and there’s a kind of featherlight anticipation in the air. At just 15 and 17 respectively, Klara and Johanna Söderberg gained mini-notoriety in the blogosphere this year due to their astounding cover of Fleet Foxes ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’, recorded in one take, in a forest (youtube it). They have but a handful of handpenned songs on their myspace that demonstrate glorious, viscid vocal power, thick with harmony, that has attracted quite a crowd of good looking neophiles to hear the real thing for the first time, this evening.

Support comes from Ben Thomas, a plaid-clad thick-set Scandinavian-type. He hulks over his guitar under dense dirty-blonde curly hair, his voice a vibrating growl. Although songs teeter on lyrically clichéd, there is a quiet magnetism about him that hones attention until the end of the set.

Chairs have to be cleared before First Aid Kit, to cater for the swelling audience. Klara and Johanna look unafraid, almost vacant, as they prepare the stage, but when the set opens with an almost-acapella call-to-arms that shakes the dust in the small backroom, the reason for their quiet confidence is suddenly quite apparent. They befit simple, sometimes green sounding folk songs with very little accompaniment, with Klara on lead vocal and acoustic guitar and Johanna colouring harmonic holes with autoharp, keyboard and vocals.

While First Aid Kit’s lyrics, which seem to dwell curiously on infidelity, sometimes slip off the boil with juvenile sentiment, the duo are, for the large part, capable of remarkable maturity, both musically and otherwise. At times Johanna screws up her pretty face and clenches her keyboard stand with the force of her vocal power, which rips through the room. What’s more, there is clear versatility in what the girls produce, ranging from seductive, bluesy vocals to the razor-edge country twang of ‘You’re Not Coming Home Tonight’. And then there is the Fleet Foxes cover, which threads aural vines of earthy forest-folk through the floorboards, leaving everyone spellbound.

Their set finishes with big smiles as the elder bashes the keyboard and the younger strums a coda, and their giggles get lost in applause. The endearing childlike edges that colour their set might not endure, but this is music and talent crafted to last. What we’ve witnessed tonight marks the beginning of a very exciting time for the Söderberg sisters.

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