Lykke Li live review – Village Underground, London, May 8th 2014
So Lykke Li has stood me up not once, but twice in the past. ~Firstly during the release period of her (mostly great) debut album “Youth Novels” she was due to perform at a London club night as a live PA, but cancelled due to sickness.
Secondly, around the same time she cancelled a festival appearance she was scheduled to perform at -obviously I was in attendance and missed seeing her once again. All this was during Lykke Li’s debut album “messy bun” hair period, which spawned a million copycat messy hairstyles all over East London (some of which are still seen today). I was gutted to miss this iconic hairstyle in person –
During the promotion for her wonderful second album “Wounded Rhymes” she only played a couple of small London gigs which sold out almost immediately – I didn’t manage to get tickets, so now on her third album “I Never Learn” (striking album cover below) I was determined to get tickets as soon as she announced she was playing London Underground, which is conveniently just down the road from my house. Luckily I managed to get hold of some, and finally I was able to see Lykke Li in a live setting (something I had heard rave reviews about in the past).
During all this time I had spent not being able to see Lykke live, I had become quite a fan of her work . I find myself consistently returning to her albums, their charms revealed more and more with every listen.
Her artistic growth over the course of her three albums has already been quite striking – from the optimistic youthful exuberance of the “Youth Novels” album, certainly her most positive point, with upbeat tracks like “Dance, Dance Dance” and “I’m Good I’m Gone” standing out above the bleaker moments. Her second album “Wounded Rhymes” definitely started to see Lykke become a little jaded with relationships and the opposite sex in general (“Sadness Is A Blessing”, “Unrequited Love”), but still had time for boppy female empowerment (“Get Some”, “Jerome”), we now meet Lykke on her third album “I Never Learn”, and things have gotten bleak
The album cover (above) speaks a lot for the album inside it. Dark, black, dramatic. Lykke Li has had her heart broken, and badly. The album is bleak, depressing (in the way only Swedes can do true misery) and also really very good.
The set at her gig very much reflects the album cover. The stage has black fabric hanging down from the ceiling, everybody on stage wears black (she brings a full band, including TWO pianos), the lighting is dark and dramatic (changing to pitch black after every song), and Lykke herself emerges after an instrumental intro to “I Never Learn” (the song) wearing a sparkly black cape, her make-up dark, her hair matted and wild.
The first thing you notice is that Lykke’s vocals are flawless. So flawless I was sceptical whether she was even singing live during first track “I Never Learn” (the song being a genuine career high I feel). However as her set progresses it becomes very clear it really is Lykke singing, managing to very much wring emotion from pretty much every note. How she manages to sing like that on a full tour and keep her voice in good order I have no idea, but I’m pretty glad she does.
A reoccurring theme of her set is sadness and misery. She really reinforces the heartbreak of her new album by carefully selecting tracks from her back catalogue. “Hanging High” from “Youth Novels” is transformed into an acoustic torch ballad and the three-punch of “Gunshot”, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone” and “Sleeping Alone” from “I Never Learn” would get even the blackest of hearts openly weeping.
Not to say that the entire set is heavy. Bouncy “Little Bit” is gladly received by the crowd, as is “I Follow Rivers” – a song has taken on an entrire world of its own since release. “Youth Knows No Pain” borrows Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love” chanting to quite unexpectedly become an extended crunk dance track (which genuinely works), and “Jerome” is re-giggled live slowly building to a huge percussive chorus.
Lykke herself is in very good voice, and is in typical Swedish misanthrope mode telling (not asking) the crowd to stop spending the gig on their phones, forget about Instagram and Facebook just for a while, and concentrate on her – being as she is pretty much (emotionally) naked on stage. This doesn’t actually go down quite as well with the crowd as she probably expects, with her statement receiving a mere scattering of applause, and people secretly taking pictures as the gig progresses.
In terms of the set-list there are a few surprises. The more upbeat “Youth Novels” album is represented lightly with singles such as “Dance Dance Dance”, “I’m Good, I’m Gone” and “Tonight” all absent (probably for being too upbeat, although “Tonight” would have been appreciated) and most surprisingly her track “Possibility” – best known for appearing in the Twilight films – is also missing, with “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone” seemingly taking its place as torch ballad of choice.
So after two aborted attempts I finally got to see Lykke Li. Was she worth it? Absolutely. I really feel she is on the cusp of greatness, perhaps not quite there yet, but should her albums keep coming as strong as they have been doing in the future, this girl has a very bright path ahead of her. Live, she was everything I had heard in a performer, the audience were very much in her grasp at times, and vocals like no other. I spotted plenty of messy buns in the audience too.
I think the set-list pretty much went like this –
I Never Learn
Love Out Of Lust
Just Like A Dream
No Rest For The Wicked
Never Gonna Love Again
Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone
I Follow Rivers
Rich Kids Blues
Heart Of Steel
Youth Knows No Pain
Du Ar Den Ende
Sadness Is A Blessing