First Aid Kit
Music Hall of Williamsburg
Sunday, September 30, 2012
Better than: Somebody with a beard.
Johanna and Klara Soderbergh walked to the edge of the stage at Music Hall of Williamsburg on Sunday night. “We’re going to play this one without the mics,” Johanna said, slightly sliding her fingers down the fretboard, a quiet pop of reverb coming through the speakers before going silent and turning the sold-out, 550-person venue into an intimate, lo-fi basement session. The duo popped into a rendition of “Ghost Town,” one of the singles from their debut album The Big Black & The Blue. Like much of the band’s repertoire, the song’s lyrics dwell on love lost, regret, and the inability to move on. “I remember how you told me all you wanted to do, that dream of Paris in the morning or a Brooklyn window view,” they sang together, quietly using a lyric change to wink at the local audience. “I can see it now you’re married and your wife is with a child, and you’re all laughing in the garden and I’m lost somewhere in your mind.”
– First Aid Kit Are Ladies of the Fjord
First Aid Kit is a folk duo from Sweden. Formed a couple years ago by sisters Johanna and Klara, they are respectively 22 and 19 years old. They write songs about broken hearts, life’s challenges, and sometimes overcoming obstacles. They have a song called “Emmylou,” which has lyrics that name drop so many famous folk musicians it could be mistaken for a trivia game about the genre of Americana. They recorded their sophomore record The Lion’s Roar in Omaha with assistance from a guy named Conor Oberst, and the record released this past January. They wear long, hippy-like floral dresses on stage. Often, they sing in very beautiful harmonies. The music probably sounds best on a Sunday morning as you drink coffee and read the paper with a significant other.
In other words, First Aid Kit is a band that a lot of people probably hate on the surface, especially people who don’t enjoy Music With Feelings. But what separates the Swedish duo from a band like, say, chart-topping Mumford & Sons, is that there doesn’t seem to be anything manufactured or overtly produced about their music. Sure, okay, First Aid Kit does sing songs with earnest lyrics about traveling the world and how “the pale morning sings of forgotten things,” but Johanna and Klara don’t act like these revelations are anything special or precious. Their sweet, haunting harmonies offer an innocent perspective of just trying to figure shit out. Whether its purposeful or not, they come across as naive. Even though much of their lyrics center on heartbreak or missing someone, the ideas and symbolism behind it is all very romanticized. To these sisters, it seems like the grass is always greener–and that blatant ignorance can be strangely enticing.
This perspective also gives the duo a confidence. On stage, they aren’t afraid of expressing themselves, sing from their guts and strum their guitars powerfully. Flowingly dancing around, both sway and sing with mannerisms that I imagine Joni Mitchell had. They scoot towards the mic, nod at the crowd, sway in circles, and fluidly toss harmonies back and forth. At times last night, though, they weren’t perfect. Certain renditions felt a bit sloppy–typically in situations where the duo would get too quiet and too introspective. There were also moments where they’d offer idealistic advice about the way the world works, which felt a bit too much like a kid in high school telling you how to be successful in life.
Then again, as First Aid Kit walked back onto stage for their encore and slipped into a cover of Paul Simon’s “America,” the couple in front of me wrapped their arms around each other. As they rocked slowly back and forth to lyrics of hitchhiking and Greyhound buses, the boyfriend quietly singing along into his girlfriend’s ear, the fact that I was taking notes on miscues and frustrations in the music seemed obsolete. The night may have been emotional. It may have been full of too much earnestness. But what was expected? First Aid Kit unashamedly puts what they feel on display and, by doing that, connect intimately with their audience. Perhaps ultimately, that’s the only involvement that matters.
Critical Bias: I recently went through a breakup, and this all just got too real, man.
Random Notebook Dump: Hope everyone is having a nice date night.