14th January 2015
The sisters Soderberg first brought their precocious folk talents to the quaint city of Bath late into the summer of 2012; a performance at the 220 capacity Moles where those blessed with an early inkling as to their brilliance would’ve been able to acquire a £10 ticket on arrival before placing themselves comfortably within ten feet of Klara, Johanna and those gorgeous vocal harmonies. These are now different times for First Aid Kit and the Art Deco grandeur of The Forum, along with an eleven date tour of UK theatre venues now all but sold out, are obvious testaments to the ascendant path taken by the Stockholm siblings since their first visit to Somerset more than two years ago.
Tonight’s performance, in front of an all seated capacity crowd of over 1600, begins as a purple illuminated ‘The Lion’s Roar’ emerges from the pitch darkness of the stage. Usually the song where the sisters opt to thrash their heads wildly in a swaying sea of hair follicles, Johanna’s wide brimmed floppy hat, and a sense of such antics being rather incongruous so early on, see that the custom is eschewed. Another album title track follows with ‘Stay Gold’ after which the girls welcome the audience with a charmingly unfeigned interaction about the correct pronunciation of “Bath”, their appreciation of the city’s beauty and their gratitude for the crowd’s attendance.
‘This Old Routine’, a bittersweet tale of a perfunctory marriage descending into ennui, is in essence what First Aid Kit do best: strong harmonies and vocal melodies, along with ghostly swathes of pedal steel, easing passage for the heavy lyrical themes within. Slightly less convincing is ‘Waitress Song’; while the Soderbergs have a transparent infatuation with American influence (the obvious name checks to Johnny Cash et al in ‘Emmylou’ for instance), the track’s conjured images of small town diners, mentions of “Chicago” and going by the name of “Stacy” sit faintly askew on Scandinavian shoulders.
The midway point sees the now customary bare bones performance of the only consistent set list survivor from 2010 debut The Big Black and The Blue as Klara and Johanna move to the edge of the stage to deliver a beautiful, microphone-free performance of ‘Ghost Town’. Solely backed by Klara’s acoustic guitar, the stripped back intermission will be familiar to ardent fans but it nonetheless retains its charm and remains the most arresting moment of First Aid Kit’s live performances.
A cover of Jack White’s ‘Love Interruption’ was a welcome addition to last year’s set lists and here again it fizzes with a buoyant energy. Featuring a frenetic light show and a fine wielding of guitar and pedal steel maestro Melvin Duffy’s axe, one wonders what would materialise should First Aid Kit decide on a rockier direction.
As good as they are, the night’s work is by no means faultless; there is a false start to the folk jamboree of ‘Heaven Knows’ and ‘Master Pretender’, a highlight of 3rd album Stay Gold, features an experiment of elongating the chorus’ lyrics that is not as effective as the sharper phrasing of the record. There are also a couple of instances of a subtle lack of cohesion as the segueing of occasional quiet-loud transitions succumb to a slight looseness ; a fact that can perhaps be attributed to the debut appearance of a new drummer and a changing band dynamic.
It barely matters though as a resounding clamour of rapt adulation summons First Aid Kit back to the stage for a two song encore; ‘Waterloo Sunset’, though not quite capturing the wistful melancholy of The Kinks’ original, is pleasing in its unexpected novelty and a sing-along rendition of ‘Emmylou’, still the band’s most populist tune, brings the night to an end.
While the suggestion that they have played better shows would be completely reasonable on tonight’s evidence, it is a sentiment likely to be cast as heretical as the four musicians receive a near unanimous standing ovation from The Forum crowd. Undeniably, First Aid Kit are now a world class act and while their exquisite fusion of sweet melodies, soaring harmonies and often sombre lyricism suited more the intimacy of their earlier shows, this is exactly as it should be.
Photographs by Stef Formica – see more photographs from this gig.