Unitard, nylons, smock?
photos by Rebecca Smeyne
(le) Poisson Rouge
Thursday, August 28
It’s easy to reduce Lykke Li to an American Apparel model come-to-life. As she enters the circular stage at (le) Poisson Rouge, her black smock-type thing flutters a bit around her body, revealing one of those backpage-ad unitards. Some spandex are in the mix, too. And to complete that look, her heroin-chic raccoon eyes pose a stark contrast against her long, golden, Avril Lavigne-ian parted hair.
But Li is more than just twenty-first-century hipster trash; she’s animated, even if breezing through her Youth Novels material only takes 35 minutes. Li rarely cracked a smile the entire night, but didn’t really need to. She’s content to play around onstage, at times awkwardly―like when covering Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” or Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?”
She sure can. Dancing is where she’s a bit spotty, but let’s face it who isn’t? She breaks out her “moves” quite often between verses, lines, whatever, and looks a bit odd doing so. Much like a coked-up vaudevillian dancer. Her elbows are often parallel to the ground, and they quickly jerk around, back and forth, back and forth like Rosie Perez during the opening scene of Do The Right Thing. This, of course, is done to the dark, synth-grooved, cowbell-lined “Dance, Dance, Dance,” where she punctuated those moves with some thrashy beatings of a crash cymbal. You can’t help but smile a bit, sound and sight seeming such at odds with one another―yet somehow, Li makes it seem normal.
Above all, her voice is as flawless as it is on record, even if Youth Novels drifts a bit too much into the nap-pop vein. Often she sounds rather baby-like: not only in tone, but she enjoys a good coo―babble, I think they call it. But on slower tunes like “Window Blues” and “Hanging High,” Li’s voice brims with authority, as it floats above the darker arrangements her live band favors. Li is full of contrasts, which is why we can overlook that unitard. ―Michael D. Ayers