Live Review | First Aid Kit (PDX)

Photos by Bobby Lilly

[W]ith so many amazing bands and solo acts coming out of Sweden, particularly in the last 15 years, one wonders if there’s something in the water.  The country is widely known for cultivating and encouraging its talented citizens, and art of all kinds has become one of its most valuable exports as a result. This Friday, a pair of Sweden’s most recent gifts to the music scene made their way to Portland.

The two sisters of First Aid Kit, born near Stockholm in 1990 and 1993, respectively, form a folk-pop duo that channels great musicians of the 1960s. Space at the Roseland Theater is at a premium, with the 21+ balcony at capacity and the all-ages floor approaching the same. A large banner bearing the band’s name hangs at the rear of the stage, with the image of a snowy forest projected onto it. From the first notes, sung a cappella, the performers captivate all onlookers. Draped in matching Stevie Nicks style dresses and joined by tour percussionist Matias Bergquist, they begin with “In the Morning.” These three have no trouble overcoming the venue’s sometimes challenging acoustics, and their sound is warm and welcoming for the duration.

Projected images shift with each song change, accenting the band’s wispy command of the stage. In a show of solidarity for their persecuted brethren, they dedicate the peppy, country-infused “Tangerine” to free speech in the name of wrongly-imprisoned Russian punk band, Pussy Riot. After several songs from their most recent record, guitarist Klara Söderberg announces that they would like to sing a song “without the aid of modern technology.” She and her sister abandon their microphones and huddle together at the center of the stage. Unassisted by electronic amplification, they begin the lovely “Ghost Town.” Audience members quietly coo along. It’s a beautiful and dreamlike moment, as well as a completely original one. This experiment is a total success, recalling bygone campfire singalongs. Everyone joins in for the final verse, smiling blissfully in a shared moment.

As the set’s end draws near, song endings get flashier. Pulsing lights and reverb accentuate the final verses. Johanna swings her hair slowly from side to side during the band’s performance of “The Lion’s Roar” in a modern take on headbanging. It’s the last song before the encore, so she curtsies at its end and wordlessly exits the stage with her sister.

For the encore, the band begins with a cover of Paul Simon’s “America,” which they performed in his honor at the 2012 Polar Music Prize Award Ceremony in Stockholm earlier this year. It’s a simple and beautiful rendition, enhanced by the expert blending of their voices. A peppy jamboree follows in the form of “Sailor Song.” Johanna and Matias bounce and clap to provide percussion. “King of the World” ends their four-song encore, with opener Dylan Leblanc joining in on vocals. The band members take a well-earned bow and once again depart without saying goodbye.  We’re left to miss them as the house lights flick back on.

Check out pics from this show at Portland, OR’s Roseland Theater below.