Lykke Li – Live at the Vic

Lykke Li

At the Vic Theatre, Chicago

Music that makes you fall in love with the pain love brings

About midway through Lykke Li’s set, when the cocaine starts to wear off, when your buzz is leaving you because you can’t afford the stupid amount it costs to buy a Bud Light and you forgot your flask, when you start to be able to see through the marijuana haze in your head again, you are left intoxicated only by her music.  And, really, that’s all you ever needed.  Lykke Li’s dark, ambient folk-pop cradles you in a loving, mournful embrace.  It’s music that makes you want to hold someone.  Just hold them in the dark with your eyes closed, losing yourself in the music and in the warmth of their body.

She walked onto the stage swathed in sheer black, with matching black drapes hanging from the rafters, drifting through the smoke and light like a raven: cunning, cocksure, alluring.  Immediately the deep thundering of bass toms filled the room, as if Glasvegas were playing a rave in Detroit.  The sound of electric organ floated through the air and an acoustic guitar brought an earthiness that grounded the otherwise largely electronic aesthetic.  Then Lykke Li opened her mouth and it sounded as if Fiona Apple met Joan of Arc on the stake.  Her pain isn’t the deeply damaged and broken pain of Apple; it’s the pain of constant disappointment, of hope and love being trampled by loss and lust.  She’s distilled the ambience of The Cure and Joy Division and combined it with the stadium sensibilities of the aforementioned Glasvegas, but kept her own pop sensibilities and self-identity.  Her songs may have a passing resemblance to other groups, but they sound like Lykke Li – make no mistake.

At one point the rest of the band walked offstage, leaving Li alone with an autoharp.  She started a song softly, immediately creating an intimacy with the audience; slowly, one by one, the rest of the band joined her, each adding their own presence in the soundscape.  By the end there was a conviviality that captured the entire venue.  The group followed this up with a fantastic, melancholy cover of “Unchained Melody,” made famous by The Righteous Brothers.  She held the entire room in the palm of her hand.  Indeed, it’s an apt cover: Phil Spector produced that song, using his ingenious Wall of Sound technique; Spector was clearly an influence on Li, as she creates that same Wall so well in each of her songs.  After that classic, everything but the drums dropped out and she danced animalistically, overwhelmed by primordial urgency.  The beat transitioned into a barnburner – pounding bass, immense, dance-floor convulsions, sex dripping from the ceiling.  “Like a shotgun needs an outcome,” she growls from a place so deep it seems to come from her loins, “I’m your prostitute, you gon’ get some.”  This is the most obviously salacious track, and comes closer than anything else to the sheer sexuality of Jeff Buckley – though in an utterly different way.  The juxtaposition of the intense sensuality of this piece to the mournful sentimentality of the tune that preceded it makes each song all the more striking.

Another part of her music that is absolutely arresting is the harmonies.  They are all beautiful, with some very much grounded in the pop vocabulary.  But far more often they ring out like Gregorian chants, resonating through the room like hooded figures reaching for the heavens. They are harmonies felt in your chest, augmented by the deep, full sounds from the drums and bass and organ.  These pious harmonies make one feel holy, enwrapped and enraptured by the sound of God.

At some point the band thanks the audience and walks off stage.  After much applause and aplomb, they slowly ease back in sight of the spectators.  “I don’t want to get the reputation of being easy,” Lykke Li bashfully grins.  “I love you, Chicago!  Do you love me?” she implores.  Cheers ring out.  “I know the perfect song for this,” and she launches into “Unrequited Love.”  “Oh, our love has been divided / Oh, my love is unrequited,” she mourns, the band offering harmonies that would make grown men weep, melodies learned from the saddest of country and bluegrass songs – and few songs are sadder.  Thanking the audience sincerely once again, the band float off, leaving their laments ringing through the air.

Highly recommended

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