Sunday, September 21, 2014

First Aid Kit, Albert Hall Manchester, 20th September 2014 8/10

In contrast to Alt-J, First Aid Kit are very much a live band. Whilst I initially found their recent third album Stay Gold slightly bland and middle of the road, there is no danger of boredom from the front rail of one of their shows. Indeed, this was a life enhancing occasion, full of joy. It's almost impossible not to smile whilst listening to a jaunty number like King of The World. Alongside this melodic gift, the sisters' vocal talent is central to their appeal. This was most evident during Ghost Town from their first album, performed unplugged and note perfect, with a spirited contribution from the crowd.

Klara and Johanna grew up surrounded by music: their father was a member of the Swedish new wave band Lolita Pop in the 80's and 90's and had a studio at home. Yet, it's Americana folk that most strongly characterises First Aid Kit's style, belying not only their Scandinavian heritage but Klara's adopted home of Manchester. Initially coming to attention with a Fleet Foxes cover, they've worked with such luminaries as Connor Oberst and Ryan Adams. At the ages of 23 and 21 they've already completed eight tours of the US and Canada, and have completely assimilated the country style. A pedal steel made a welcome appearance on stage, and in the celebratory, closing Emmylou, they also name drop Gram Parsons, Johnny Cash and June Carter. One of the most effective songs was their cover Jack White's Love Interruption, whom they've also worked with, providing some much needed contrast.

They're natural performers, Klara often leading from the acoustic guitar, and Johanna the more fluid in her movement, especially during The Lion's Roar. This is title song from that album, with a memorable tune, and the song most indebted to Americana. First Aid Kit had an easy rapport with the crowd, joking about their unlikely rock and roll nature when introducing Master Pretender, whose lyrics necessitated an explicit sticker on the album. In fact, they're highly inclusive, the beautiful ecclesiastical venue being sold out with music lovers of all ages. Klara's partner, Jo Rose provided a touching, sensitively sung solo opening act, with echoes of Neil Young; it's a pity he didn't join them on stage later. The stage back drop, lavish lighting and costumes reflected Stay Gold's theme, but the hour and 20 minute set was judiciously balanced.

First Aid Kit's reassuringly easy on the ear nature made me crave the more challenging territory at times: the surface gloss is some distance from the intricacy of Alt-J. Yet, they're more natural communicators on stage, regardless of whether the range of emotion is slightly constrained. Even though their success means they are playing far larger venues than 2 and a half years ago , those glorious harmonies still provide intimate escapism into a warm, comfortable world. Above all, they communicate their joy of performing, and love of sharing music which transcends geographical boundaries.

Set List
  • Stay Gold
  • Blue
  • King of the World
  • Waitress Song
  • Shattered & Hollow
  • In The Hearts of Men
  • Cedar Lane
  • Ghost Town
  • My Silver Lining
  • Wolf
  • Love Interruption
  • Heaven Knows
  • The Lion's Roar
  • A Long Time Ago
  • Master Pretender
  • Emmylou

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