Lykke Li's third album and tour this year have attracted much praise, and I enjoyed her Wounded Rhymes tour in 2011 (with support from First Aid Kit) and appearance at the BBC 6 Music Festival in March. Tonight's show was carefully choreographed and immaculately performed, the five backing musicians helping to create a sound carefully aligned with Bjorn Yttling's studio production. The lighting effects were striking: Lykke Li often appeared in shadow, and there were moody clouds of dry ice throughout. After each song, the light faded to darkness. To add to the drama, her voice is laden with reverb, and sounded strikingly pure and note perfect. The show had the feeling of a theatrical presentation, not simply a gig, and to avoid breaking the spell, Lykke Li said little to the audience until the end of the evening.
Yet, it is difficult to avoid comparisons with the last gig before my recent travels, by St. Vincent at this same ecclesiastical venue. Regrettably, a curtain covered the organ at the back of the stage, and we experienced none of the antics that saw Annie Clark swinging onto the balcony and leaping five feet down to the audience. In fact, it wasn't until the encores that Lykke Li even approached the edge of the stage to talk to the audience. Whilst I admired the impeccable musicianship, I felt detached; it wasn't until we were invited to hold up our phones during Never Gonna Love Again that there was a real sense of involvement. This song also took flight because it's the strongest power ballad on the album I Never Learn. At least the sound was clear throughout: the support act's muddy balance had left me apprehensive.
St. Vincent's music is challenging and obtuse when Lykke Li's feels formulaic and unadventurous: at times it feels as if she is reusing the same set of chords. It's no coincidence that two of highlights from the 80 minute set were covers by Fleetwood Mac and most notably an imaginative take on Drake's Hold On, We're Going Home. This showed what a commensurate performer she is, and like St. Vincent, nothing is left to chance. So it was almost a relief when she prematurely introduced the uneven support act Eliot Sumner to join her on stage; a flash of humanity when the person behind the act was revealed.
Yet, perhaps the only way that a sensitive person can perform such heartbreaking material every other night to is to remain in character. Her new album is a study in betrayal and romantic loss, being written after a breakup and relocation from her native Sweden to Los Angeles. She's a tiny figure on stage, but far from feeling vulnerable, she conveyed strength in adversity. The relative musical simplicity is almost certainly intentional, allowing her emotions to be projected more directly. A song like Gunshot is affecting, but faster songs like I Follow Rivers and the closing Dance Dance Dance reminded me that sadness can be cathartic. Yes, Lykke Li's choses to express a relatively limited emotional range in her dark pop, and can feel stage bound, but her sincerity is clear.
1. I Never Learn
2. Sadness Is A Blessing
3. Just Like A Dream
4. No Rest For The Wicked
5. Silent My Song
6. Hold On, We're Going Home (Drake cover)
7. Little Bit
8. Sleeping Alone
10. I Follow Rivers
11. Never Gonna Love Again
12. Rich Kid Blues
13. Get Some (with Eliot Sumner)
14. Silver Springs (Fleetwood Mac cover)
15. Dance, Dance, Dance