sat 15/06/2024

Lykke Li, Shepherds Bush Empire | reviews, news & interviews

Lykke Li, Shepherds Bush Empire

Lykke Li, Shepherds Bush Empire

Transfixing Bo Diddley beats, gospel choruses and wheezy garage rock organ

Lykke Li: The anti-Stevie Nicks

As her black robe swirled around a black leotard, Lykke Li became the anti-Stevie Nicks. Instead of conjuring the mellow California feeling, she sang “sadness is a blessing”. Yet this Swede’s pop is as uplifting, as transporting as any good vibe merchant. More so. Last night’s show transfixed with its Bo Diddley beats, gospel choruses and wheezy garage rock organ.

Rather than being a retro futurist, Lykke Li takes from the past and recasts it to fit her vision of what affecting pop ought to be.

Recent album Wounded Rhymes was a magnificent drama, the post-nuclear-age Shangri-Las slugging it out with some Alan Lomax field recordings. With a pin-sharp live band, these already live-sounding songs acquired an extra urgency. Opener “Jerome” was syncopated, warm and immediate. The organ and rotating rhythms brought semi-forgotten Camden band Gallon Drunk to mind for the second time this year – previously it was in Estonia while watching Väljasöit Rohelusse. Perhaps a reunion might be timely.

Lykke Li Zachrisson might have spent a lot of time away from Sweden, but there’s no doubt the drama in her music draws from a Nordic melancholy. It might not be a Bergmanesque nuts-and-bolts, root-and-branch examination of what makes emotions tick, but the songs on Wounded Rhymes lay it out: “Unrequited Love”; the unsubtly titled “Rich Kids Blues". And she was born in Ystad, home of Wallander, the worry-wort policeman. Wherever she is, like the fictional detective, Lykke Li can’t shake the blues.

She shares something with fellow non-fictional Swede and recent London visitor Robyn: an incredible energy on stage. When I saw Lykke Li around the time of first album Youth Novels, she stamped and flapped her arms, marrying semaphore to tribal dance. It was a no-brakes Toyah gone bonkers. Now though, energy undiminished, she has reined it in bringing an extra level of intensity. Only occasionally did the dervish surface – during “Dance, Dance, Dance” and “Get Some”. Wounded Rhymes is wilder and bolder than Youth Novels, but the inverse has happened to her live show. Now, she's more nuanced and, consequently, more effective.

The sensitively paced set reflected this new confidence. Instead of biffing right into the hard-hitters after “Jerome” there was an ebb and flow. Fourth up was a cover of British band The Big Pink's first 4AD single “Velvet”. Lykke Li isn't just looking to the distant past. First-album songs like “Little Bit” gained from the new approach. Her band – a drummer, a percussionist, a keyboard player, a backing singer and a bassist who also handled keyboards and guitar – played with space, rather than peeling off slabs of sound. Texture was the goal.

Even the raging “Get Some” - the song everyone was looking forward to – had this space. The encore of “Youth Knows No Pain” and a virtually solo "Unrequited Love" sealed it. This was a terrific, assured show.

Pity then that the spell was broken afterwards during the walk to Shepherds Bush tube station. There was one of Lykke Li's Levi's ads on a bus stand. It quotes her saying “I believe life’s too short for compromises and bad fitting jeans”. What a let down to see something so workaday after this magical concert.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

Watch Lykke Li performing “I Know Places” on the moon

The drama in Lykke Li’s music draws from a Nordic melancholy. She can’t shake the blues

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