Lykke Li – [Live]

Thursday, 12 March 2009

It's raining in Pomona. The blocks around the Glass House are populated with shuttered businesses and craters where buildings once stood. One of my companions relates how another venue used to be right where a fenced-off hole now sits just across the street from the Glass House. If one were to believe in omens, this would be the sort of neighborhood to avoid, as though any minute artillery fire from Chino might swoop down and crash upon us. But then, if one were to believe such omens, one would miss an amazing show by the darling—if a little diva-esque—Lykke Li (pronounced “Licky Lee”).

The Glass House appears to be caught somewhere between viable, fun concert venue and slightly foul-smelling laser-tag arena. The walls are covered in dingy black paint, the bathrooms are woefully small, and soft pretzels and pizza are served in place of alcohol at the concession stand. The effect of this on the crowd is obvious: kids come dressed in their most parent-unfriendly digs and wave their cell phones at the stage while older fans work through the last drops of their pre-show drinking buzz. When Ryan Gosling appears (and is subsequently mobbed by young Notebook fans), I can’t help but wonder why he would make the trip out to this venue. It seems almost the polar opposite of the usual Hollywood clubs that are so rife for celebrity sightings, and yet there he is, as congenial and famous as ever.

The opener is threateningly enigmatic, a bygone-sounding duo called Wildbirds & Peacedrums. The singing half of the group (who I have to assume is Wildbirds) is a powerful-looking woman with a fierce voice and a drugged appearance, a woozy shamanistic sway that brings her back and forth between an autoharp and a floor tom during their stripped-down, dreamy chant-songs. The other half (Peacedrums, easily identified by his drums) looks determined to beat his way through the drums that surround him, but definitely accomplishes his role of urging the songs forward. The highlight is the last song, which sees the Wild & Birdlike-half singing without a microphone at the beginning, using only her herculean lungs to reach the audience. No small feat.

It's always a toss-up when watching an artist tour on their debut album. There's the risk that they don't have enough material to put together a good set, and the greater risk that they simply don't know how to put together a good set with or without the material. All these traces of amateurishness are absent from Lykke Li's performance. She jokes with the crowd in between songs with her delightfully foreign swearing (you can always tell a foreigner when they swear, they always go right to the F word and completely disregard the wealth of other dirty English words and phrases). She pushes through all of her hits easily, dancing and pouting under a black curtain-esque shawl and flashing her trademark 1000-yard stare. She even shoos all of her bandmates (who were all just as foreign-looking and black-clad as Lykke herself) and launches into a "Swedish Techno Party" (her words) with "Complaint Department." The best performance, the one that really cuts through the pop fog that's clogging the hall up to the rafters, was "Until We Bleed" a Lykke B-side that originally appeared on Swedish Producer Kleerup's 2008 album Kleerup. The song is a slow drag that's disarmed of Lykke's armoring wit, the funniness that keeps her usually darker material light and facetious, and the result is an ode to love that seems almost too aware of the pain that comes with even requited love. Of course, the moment is totally ruined if you are standing where I was, surrounded by a group of high school girls covered in glitter and waving their cell phones in the air so that their gal-pals at home could hear it all too.

"SHE'S BETTER THAN ON HER ALBUM!!" Thank you, Junior Miss Obvious.


Lykke Li – “Little Bit” – [mp3]
Lykke Li – “Dance Dance Dance” – [mp3]

Lykke Li – Youth Novels is out now. Buy it on Amazon.

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