First Aid Kit, the folk duo consisting of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderbergthe from Sweden, plus their band make a triumphant and emotional return to Manchester, four years after their last visit. Mike Bennett reports.
First up is Lola Kirke and her band playing a very short set of country rock for the connoisseurs. Lola comes from a family of excellent modern culture stock and is also an actress, though her music was very Country traditional until the Christmas song (“Even though I am Jewish, I’m going to play a Christmas song”). If she carries on in that spirit she will be very interesting to catch up with in the future, a pedal steel Martha Wainwright.
The new First Aid Kit album Palomino, is forefront tonight, though there is a ton of excellence from previous records too. To be frank, they could sing the phonebook if such a thing existed, and these familial harmonies would sound incredible singing the name of the most tedious street. There is clearly some science involved in why they sing so well together, and I also imagine many hours of practice and honing of technique, writing songs as children, as children do. Like all great singers, songwriters, musicians, and artists in general, they make the sublime look effortless.
They start with Palomino and its big drums, and the whole room just lights up, literally and emotionally, the whole audience is smiling, everyone, as the first set of perfect harmonies sails toward the art deco ceiling, ringing in your ears like an angel sighing, forever. Notice that we have seen bands we adored and the vocals were a little well, imperfect? Not tonight. I think that untethered from the recording process, they actually sounded better, even more human, even more humane. Like these voices have some sort of mainline to your heart, your emotions. Speaking of which, soon after the almost prog rock genius of The Lions Roar, which was so good I might have fainted with sheer joy, and the peerless acoustic section (you know, more harmonies, perfect) they play Emmylou. Now, I consider Emmylou to be one of the best three songs of the past decade or so. It’s a song of such perfection, that in a ghost of a Leonard Cohen melody in which the lyrics quote from the actual song in question, it actually improves your memory of the original. Quite a difficult proposition but a small part of its actual brilliance. And it was played with such luminosity there was barely a dry eye or heart in the house.
This must have felt like a sort of homecoming for First Aid Kit, and not just because of the battalion of brass monkeys that besieged Stockport road on Wednesday night. Although its been a while since they were last here, nobody did much travelling until fairly recently, but it seems that at least one of the siblings used to live here for a year or two, although we never discover why, other than a shout out to three ladies in the audience. Roommates, collaborators or karaoke partners, we are not told, but it just adds warmth to a room rooting for them one hundred per cent already.
Even the aesthetics have been clearly done with love, from the simple but effective broken white line that silhouetted them from time to time, to the Patsy meets Elvis outfits to the filmed backdrop of horses, prairies and other elegiac visions of disappearing Americana that somehow reminds me of Jimmy Webb and a lineman that’s still on the line.
The encore Out Of My Head, is extraordinary in that its seemingly a three-minute-long hook, like a late-night visit to ABBAs The Visitors, strange folk oddness entwined with pure pop brilliance yet still meeting with the approval of Hank, Johnny and naturally, Gram.
There were almost all couples in tonight. If you want to express that inarticulate speech of desire, that longing, that fleeting moment where you want to live forever, but knowing that love hurts then this is the gig to spend with someone. Whatever happens next to all these people, together or apart, this will sit in the collected soul, and those harmonies, forever soaring into the bleak Northern sky, will stay with them long, long after.
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