Friday, November 5, 2010

Gig review: Lykke Li in Heaven

Swedish wonderkid Lykke Li had several potential hit singles on her quirky debut album, Youth Novels. Commercial and cool at the same time, her songs would have worked just as well on Top 40 radio as they did amidst the doomy emo of the Twilight soundtrack, which featured her spooksome ballad Possibility. But the singer's slow-burning, word-of-mouth success largely ruled her out of the pop charts - something she intends to rectify with her next record.

Li popped up in London's Heaven nightclub last night to road-test some of her new material. It largely fell into two categories: Scorching, percussive chants (such as her latest single Get Some) and, somewhat unexpectedly, big country ballads. One of them was even called Jerome.

The 24-year-old's fluttering, faltering vocals actually lent a huge emotional heft to the Nashville numbers. Take the encore, a drunken waltz with the heartrending chorus: "Once again, it's happening / All my love is unrequited". When Li held her palms out to the audience and sighed: "It's really true", I actually heard hearts melt.

The lyrical theme of love lost was echoed on the Phil Spector-ish Sadness Is A Blessing, and a tender, acoustic cover of The Big Pink's Velvet - but it wasn't all doom and gloom.

Any time there was a chance to pound a drum or thrash a tambourine to within an inch of its life, Li was there, weilding a bloody great big stick. Even the weedier songs from Youth Novels - Dance, Dance, Dance, for example - were given a muscular, percussive makeover. And new tracks like Rich Kid Blues have been expressly built around the rumbling, primal rhythms of an Amazonian tribe offering a human sacrifice to the volcano gods.

Li's vocals aren't the strongest in the pop pantheon. Dannii Minogue might describe the singing as " occasionally pitchy". Or, in other words, flat. But I didn't care. I'd rather watch an imperfect performance by an impassioned, flawed vocalist than a hundred X Factor bland-o-ballads. It may also have helped that Li, dressed in a Dracula cape with her Rapunzel hair tied up in bunches, was a surprisingly supple mover. A Sexy Feline Machine, as Basement Jaxx once put it.

As with any gig largely based on unheard material, the audience's attention wavered occasionally. I'd say the uptempo tracks fared better, but I was more drawn in by the lovelorn ballads. It'll be interesting to see which of the tracks make the cut when she releases her album next year.

(Yes, that is a Fugees cover in the middle of the serlist)

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