This week at Central Park Summerstage in New York City, First Aid Kit opened up for Dawes. It was a beautiful outdoor concert that showedcased the band's tremendously talent and their continuous growth as performers.
Fronted by sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg, First Aid Kit have released three full length albums and two EPs since their debut in 2008. Not bad for a couple of young women who are now 22 and 24 years old, respectively. One of the many unlikely things about the band is that the Söderberg sisters are youngsters from Sweden, but make music that's deeply rooted in American music — namely classic country and '60s folk. Their sound has an authenticity that is not easy to duplicate, with heartfelt vocals, precise musicianship, and keen songwriting.
Playing in New York City is obviously special for these girls. They talked about being influenced by New York's own Paul Simon, and a couple of their songs — "Master Pretender" and "Ghost Town" — include lyrics like "All the streets of New York City sure look pretty from way up here" and "That dream of Paris in the morning or a New York window view." New York is a city with a mystique around it, and these songs capture that.
Acoustic guitar in hand throughout the set, Klara seems to have been plucked from another era. It is quite a sight to see her strolling around the stage in her flowing white dress, engaging everyone and managing all the changes the band goes through with power and finesse. As the lead vocalist, her voice is heavenly and gritty.
Johanna is the yin to Klara's yang. Watching her perform, I was blown away by the versatility she has on stage. It may look like she's playing just a keyboard, but that keyboard has an incredible range of sounds. Most of the night she was handling the bass duties, but she was also contributing strings, xylophones, and a few other quirky tones that kept things interesting. During the band's biggest hit in the USA, "My Silver Lining," her synth reminded me of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway To Heaven." Her vocals were also just about flawless.
Backing the sisters are a couple of Brits: Scott Simpson on drums and Melvin Duffy on pedal steel guitar, mandolin, and electric guitar. Simpson's drumming was perfectly understated throughout the concert, fitting the music perfectly. He kept pushing the grooves forward while leaving plenty of room for the instrumentalists to shine.
Duffy's playing was also polished and professional, playing the role of ace sideman who could contribute in a wide variety of ways. As a unit, the band went from haunting ballads to uptempo rockers to laid back summer jams. To give you an idea of how dynamic the set was, the band rocked out with a cover of Black Sabbath's "War Pigs" and a couple songs later slowed things down with a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "America."
The only real disappointment during the show was when they played a soft version of "Ghost Town," and that had nothing to do with the band. The crowd took this opportunity to have loud conversations with each other, killing the delicate vibe of the song. Since many in the crowd may have been there for Dawes, it's understandable that it wasn't the most attentive audience. I found it pretty rude, but the band handled it like true professionals and didn't miss a beat.
The whole show was pretty great, but a few highlights really stood out. The headbanging during "War Pigs" was a lot of fun, as was the aforementioned "My Silver Lining." The latin groove to "Wolf" was the most danceable song of the evening, and the band really got into it as the girls did a fun tambourine breakdown as they moved around the stage. Dawes' Taylor Goldsmith came out for "King of the World" during the three song encore.
First Aid Kit finished the show with "Emmylou," showing their knowledge and understanding of American music while also delivering an upbeat and emotional tune. It was the perfect way to end a nearly perfect set of music.
For the latest music, news, and tour dates from First Aid Kit, check out their Zumic artist page.
Also, be sure to check out our review and photos of Dawes' Central Park Summerstage show that closed out the evening.
All photos by Francesco Marano, © Zumic 2015