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Lykke Li at the Wiltern
An uninhibited free spirit who is lost in the groove of her music.
When I think of Sweden, the first things that pop into my head are cheap and chic self-assembled furniture, meatballs, Absolut Vodka, the Nobel Prize, snowy winters with only a few hours of sunlight, indie rock, and beautiful, blonde, pale people. After making a list like that, my mind immediately paints imagery of a snowy, dark, winter day where a bunch of beautiful blondes stay in their IKEA furnished homes, eat meatballs, get drunk off vodka and make music.
Being the ignorant American that I am, I have stereotyped an entire country once again, but it does make the country sound pretty enticing - doesn't it?
Lykke Li is a young Swedish pop singer-songwriter that has recently taken the U.S. by storm with her second album Wounded Rhymes (LL Recordings), playing a tour of sold out shows and landing a Victoria's Secret commercial. Swedish Pop Stars (unlike American ones who sell teenage sex) are known for their fashionableness, originality and eccentrics, so the Victoria's Secret commercial caught me off guard.
I was lucky enough to catch Lykke's sold out show at the Wiltern in Los Angeles. Not knowing much about Lykke Li, the big question lingering in the back of my mind as I entered the theater was whether she was going to embody her Victoria's Secret side on stage by dressing in an extremely revealing, gold outfit, swinging wet hair around on stage screaming, "Yeah! We Swedes like American Sex!" Or was she going to stay Indie and artsy?
Upon entering, I noticed that the crowd was very eclectic. The age range was widely distributed. There was an even amount of females to males. It was ethnically diverse. There wasn't anybody who dressed in a way that screamed any particular sub or counter culture. The vibe was positive and light; it felt pretty KCRW.
The setup was minimalistic and classy with only eight wide strips of long black silk hanging from above to decorate the stage. The instruments (all elevated on little stages) created a half circle surrounding Lykke's position from behind. Going from left to right, there were two keyboards, a backup singer, a guitarist/bassist (directly behind Lykke) and two drum setups.
The introduction to the set was dark and mystical. A slow, soft, and deep melancholic melody radiated from the pitch-black stage with an occasional strobe light flashing, making me envision a serene winter in northern Sweden, where a few hours of sunlight a day feels like a single flash amidst the rest of dark day. As the melody ended, a pounding heartbeat-like drum took over. I heard hissing sounds as smoke filled the empty stage, and artificial winds made the strips of silk move like possessed witches while strobing searchlights above the stage gyrated like the heads of kids with ADHD. Everything intensified until the stage became a giant, blinding, flashing ball of light and suddenly everything went quiet and the stage goes dark.
An acoustic guitar melody for "Jerome" begins playing and a faint light in the center of the stage appears, revealing Lykke standing front and center on stage, wearing what looks like a black one-piece bathing suit, connected at the collar to a long billowy cape-like coat that reaches the ground, split down the middle of her back, making it look like she has droopy wings. With a transparent black head cover, she looks like she walked out of the album cover picture for Wounded Rhymes, and begins singing "Jerome." While singing with much more emotion than the album version of the song and swaying with body language to match, Lykke slowly removes her head cover, revealing her pale, snow elf face and shiny gold hair, tied tightly into a bun on the back of her head right before the part where she longingly sings "Ohh ohh Jerome". The stage- filled with smoke, softly swaying strips of silk, a mix of pale and warm lights, Lykke and her suited up band- was quite photogenic. The entire show looked like it would have made a good poster.
As "I'm Good I'm Gone" begins playing, Lykke is seen with a single drumstick in her hand and tells the audience to clap our hands; this is when I realize that she has a very special dainty, trebly voice. She claps and grooves over to the drum set and slams a cymbal before swimming her way back to the center. Her body language and arm gestures make her look like she's a rapper while singing the song, and she contributes to the instrumentals by banging on the cymbals of the drum set during the chorus.
The show was filled with contrast. Songs about depressing subjects (such as "Sadness") sounded like happy songs, and were even accompanied with warm, orange colored lights to make the audience feel warm and cozy inside while hearing "sadness is a blessing," while songs with happy titles such as "Dance, Dance, Dance" sounded so somber. While everything on stage looked classy, grown up and professional, Lykke's movements and mannerisms reminded me of a little girl, running and dancing around her living room with a spoon as a microphone dreaming of being a big pop star one day.
Lykke's movements also exude contrasting influences, including: intense tribal pounding groove, elegant and ethereal snow elf swaying/swimming, ghetto baby rapper-esque gun pointing and little girl prance; but they all amount to her being an uninhibited free spirit who is lost in the groove of her music.
The show continued on, with the stage moving from dark to light like sunlight, searchlights refracting beautifully through the fog, strobe lights when songs build, black silk strips moving like backup dancers, warm lights during sad songs, heavy and deep tom tom drum sounds contrasting with Lykke's voice and beautiful choir-like vocal harmonies made by the band to help Lykke bring her songs up to emotional peaks. Highlights of the show include Lykke playing the chordharp in "I Know Places," megaphone usage and red lights making the stage look like the scene of a bloody vampire movie during "Silent Shout," and the audience going crazy for Lykke's sexy hip gyrating dance and lip trumpet during "Dance, Dance, Dance."
"I Know Places" also created the perfect moment during a vocal harmony; the warm lights and fog made the stage look like the sky when it turns orange at sunset on a cold, snowy Swedish winter evening. The show was a mystical, visual and musical experience that made me want to visit Sweden even more than I already had.
As for the question lingering in the back of my mind, Lykke played well. She was genuine, classy and artistic with just a glimmer of sexy.
2. I'm Good I'm Gone
5. Follow Rivers
6. Dance, Dance, Dance
7. Made You Move
8. I Know Places
9. Little Bit
10. Love Out of Lust
11. Rich Kid Blues
12. Silent Shout
13. Until We Bleed
14. Get Some
15. Youth Knows No Pain
17. Unrequited Love