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Central Park Summerstage
Monday, August 1
Better than: Throwing out love incantations at home.
The title of Lykke Li’s second album, Wounded Rhymes, implies sullen dwelling on past offenses, but the record itself is much more peeved than those two words imply. It opens with the barnburning, denial-soaked “Youth Knows No Pain” then spins through the other stages of grief that come part and parcel with lust and heartbreak and all those emotions’ attendant actions and reactions. (Also, dancing.)
Yet despite the agony in some of her lyrics, she was in good spirits; this makes sense in a way, given that the pain of heartbreak is usually preceded by the head-rush provided by flirtation and infatuation. “I’m so happy to be here; I can’t believe it,” she said after tearing through her opening number; gratitude would run alongside lovelorn feelings throughout the evening, as she weaved in and out of songs about bad romances and took turns on kazoo and autoharp and cymbal.
Something sort of unexpected that resulted from the combination of her getup—big sleeves, long hair that whipped around as she defiantly shifted back and forth, short shorts—and the longing songs, which always pushed forward even when their lyrics expressed hesitancy; they made even more explicit the shared DNA between psych-rock and girl groups. (At one point I had a fantasy of her touring in a Voltron agglomeration with Black Mountain a la Weezer/Flaming Lips or NKOTBSB. Could you imagine them wailing away as a single unit on the boogieing “Get Some”?) Although this notion of convergence set up a bit of fleeting disappointment; the late-in-the-show performance of “Youth,” which I’d been looking forward to pretty much all day, seemed at first curiously inert (which I first chalked up to a key change that had Li wearily singing the lyrics instead of brattily shouting them as she does on record). Then the King Crimson sample that powers Kanye West’s “Power” kicked in, and she busted out a megaphone, turning the song into a perverse cheer for the follies of youth that only reveal their scars later.
For the finale she brought it down a bit—how could she not, after that calamitous piece?—first sitting at the upright for “Possibility” and following that with the aching “Unrequited Love,” her voice bathed in harmonies that seemed to be there for the purpose of comforting her and the look on her face making her seem as if she was about to burst. “Thank you, I love you,” she said. She ran offstage before the prediction laid out in the song could be borne out.
Critical bias: Wounded Rhymes is one of my top albums of ’11. I liked Youth Novels, but was not expecting that!
Overheard: “I just saw a catfight, so this show is getting the female hormones going.”
Random notebook dump: Stevie Nicks name-checks to the left of me, Stevie Nicks name-checks to the right of me. Chalk some of it up to the sleeves.