Live: Lykke Li Soundtracks Your Personal Makeout Session at Le Poisson Rouge


Lykke Li
(Le) Poisson Rouge
December 1, 2010

Better Than: Your standard overpraised Swedish pop starlet.

The Swedish ingénue-cum-big-deal Lykke Li is a little bit of a thing. No more than five feet tall, she fills a space like someone twice that size. At Le Poisson Rouge on Wednesday night she was working a sort of evil Stevie Nicks vibe, in a black cape-sweater and severe black eye makeup, her blonde hair now a shade darker than any respectable Stockholm girl’s ought to be. And she swayed and kicked onstage not unlike Nicks, channeling feline vamp and panther-esque prowl, occasionally banging a pair of drumsticks on a snare drum or a tambourine. She wiggles and grinds and explodes while she performs, rarely with grace, but with power. So it’s not hard to see why this once impish singer is working the dramatic edges of pop–she often seems uncomfortably ecstatic. Wounded Rhymes, her new album, set for a February 2011 release, does all of the things its predecessor, 2008’s hooky, finely manicured Youth Novels did not–that is, it wallows and growls, intermittently. Li obliged with a set splitting the two–half for the forlorn, and the rest for the lovers.

And oh were there lovers. All night, people were slow dancing and making out, inhibitions left somewhere outside the corner of Bleecker and Thompson. The best songs on Wounded Rhymes are torch-y ballads, like “Sadness Is a Blessing” and the tremulous show-closer “Unrequited Love.” But while these songs are about missed connections and solitude, the audience often seemed to mistake them for declarations of sensuality. One particular couple, pawing at each other all night with the fervor of two newly introduced grizzlies at the zoo, seemed to be sucking face in congress with the synth flourishes of “Little Bit.” This is what Lykke Li’s voice, oscillating between mousy squeak and stern contralto, can do to people.

When things were too stormy for smooching, folks up front started thrashing. “Dance, Dance, Dance,” a Dixie Cups-style vocal number with a skronking sax solo wedged between the second and third verses, became more propulsive live, that sax replaced with dive-bombing percussion. At one point, Li pulled her cape up above her shoulders, creating a Batman-style silhouette, before returning to the microphone to begin blowing into a kazoo. During “Jerome,” a new power ballad that throbs and pulses before reaching a cathartic climax, that grizzly-ish couple began gnawing on each other’s ears during the song’s swooning chorus. The whole thing was very feral.

That’s the intention of “Get Some,” the album’s first single, which ended the formal segment of the show. Li performed in the round, though, so the ritual exiting-and-then-returning to the stage was only pantomimed before she launched into a putative encore. That began with a shaky, quiet rendition of “Possibility,” the chilling, contemplative song that just happened to score a scene in Twilight: New Moon. “Unrequited Love,” the new album’s crushing centerpiece, followed. Most had never heard the song before, but the moment was palpable. The Lykke Li of old, prone to charmingly goofy rap covers and Drake-inspiring dabs of cold emo-pop, could never have gotten away with ending a show this way. One guess as to whether she pulled it off last night.

Critical Bias: Is it weird if I listen to the New Moon song alone in the wee hours nearly all the time?
Overheard: “There goes David Byrne, skulking around as usual.”
Random Notebook Dump: Is kewpie-punk a thing? Let’s get Altered Zones to weigh in.

Set List
“Youth Knows No Pain”
“I’m Good I’m Gone”
“Love Out of Lust”
“I Follow Rivers”
“Little Bit”
“Velvet” (this may have been a Big Pink cover, can’t say for sure)
“Paris Blue”
“Dance, Dance, Dance”
“Rich Kid Blues”
“Sadness Is a Blessing”/”Silent Shout”
“Breaking It Up”
“Get Some”

“Unrequited Love”