After 8 hours of sitting in front of a computer screen at work, I was ready for a veggie burger, Corona, and some live music. Thankfully, I had two neon-orange tickets in my purse to see Lykke Li at Café 1001, and Brick Lane happens to be home to some killer BBQ. A few weeks back I’d been devastated to learn that Lykke’s big London gig was sold out and thought I might have to venture as far as Manchester to see my favorite Swede (members of Ace of Base, excluded). Luckily, Miss Li was added to the line-up of East London’s first Concrete and Glass festival, right in the heart of my favorite weekend hangout.
I met up with one of my girlfriends amid the typical throngs of young folk hanging out off Brick Lane where the laid-back, end-of-summer atmosphere was contagious. Oh, and the burger? Perfect, thanks for asking. After an hour or so of trying to blend in among the British, we gradually made our way to a small room closed off from the comfy couches and mood lighting of the second-floor lounge. The Scandinavian affair kicked off with Finnish musician Kimmo Pohjonen playing a style I’d call farmhand-noise-rock (?). Actually, Mr. Pohjonen has his own name for this artistic project, as he’d aptly dubbed his May U.K. tour of the same ilk Earth Machine Music. Back then, he recorded, sampled, and performed on British farms with local farmers and farm implements. He reprised this sonic style for the Concrete and Glass show, albeit in a much smaller space. Throughout his performance, he threw his whole body into playing his accordion over blaring samples while neon stage lights put me into a daze.
He then essentially brought the farm to the city when he invited two farmers on stage who started placing potatoes on a conveyor belt (below).
This was soon eclipsed by a guy who entered the stage wielding a chainsaw — a sight I unfortunately missed while visiting the loo. Upon my return, there was a guy making a beat by hammering against an anvil. The whole set was like nothing I’d seen before and made for a pretty fascinating spectacle. Not sure I’d sign up to hear another half-hour of it just yet, but I certainly respected the guy for the process behind his show.
Next up was Wildbirds & Peacedrums, a Swedish male-female duo (kind of like a flip-flopped Mat and Kim set-up with more soul and less synth) who brought hair-rasing vocals and thundering drums. Singer Miriam Wallentin even used her towering high-heels as a percussive instrument. Resourceful and effective, I’d say. My only criticism was that I couldn’t make out any distinct lyrics within her crooning.
After one of the longest sound-checks I’ve ever endured, Lykke Li finally hit the stage. Dressed in all black with knee-high boots and her signature scarf wrapped around a high bun, this girl was ready to “Dance, Dance, Dance.” And dance she did. Perhaps it was her captivating stage presence that really solidified why I like her so much. You see, it’s been a while since I’ve connected this much with a female artist. Not to knock my Cat Powers and Feists, but Lykke Li has an energy I haven’t experienced yet with another “indie” female soloist. Certainly a far cry from the generic lyricism of Colbie Caillat or Sara Bareilles or the sexpot sensationalism of Katy Perry, she’s somewhere in between the hip-hop singer you’d expect to shake it under the spotlight and the folkie singer-songwriter who strums her way through an intimate acoustic set. With Lykke Li, you get witty and relatable lyrics from a young female perspective, a blend of organic and electronic beats from a commanding band, a little dose of foreign charm, and of course — those killer moves.
During her set, she hit up most of the big ones from her debut, Youth Novels, giving tracks like “Little Bit” and “I’m Good, I’m Gone” the four-star treatment they deserve. About three-quarters through the set, her guitarist kept audience members on their toes when he started playing one of this year’s most memorable riffs, that of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” Lykke dove into about half of the Vampire Weekend hit with ease, and my mind began to wander at the thought of an amazing collaboration (Ezra Koenig, take note. Peter Gabriel, too.) Now, if I had been manning the set list, I would have selected the raw intensity of “Tonight” any day over the boring drone of “Complaint Department,” but I’ll let that one slide. To end the show, Lykke brought out her badass cover of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Can I Kick It?”
If I you’re asking me, I say….yes you can.
P.S. Check out this video of Lykke Li and Bon Iver singing “Dance, Dance, Dance” in L.A. Jerk editor-in-chief Katie Allyn may very well faint.