First Aid Kit Transports

March 29th, 2012

First Aid Kit – Webster Hall – March 28, 2012

(Photo: Alexis Maindrault)

Every once in a while you hear a voice that transports and transforms, takes your surroundings and makes them something else. Last night there were two such voices onstage at Webster Hall, filling the room like a hot air balloon that lifted the audience out of the East Village to worlds unknown. The voices belonged to Johanna and Klara Söderberg, who, backed by a drummer, make up First Aid Kit. The ladies professed nervousness to playing this big sold-out New York City show, but they showed no sign of unease as they floated the audience across dusty roads, wind-swept plains, campfires and whiskey toasts.

Despite being from Sweden, their music is pure Americana, the folk of the coffee shops of yore and the old school country of cowboy bars. The sisters worked through much of their terrific new release, The Lion’s Roar. In early highlight “Emmylou,” names like Emmylou, Johnny and Graham were mythic metaphors powering the music. For “Ghost Town” they tried a “little experiment,” stepping away from the microphones and amplifiers and singing directly to the crowd, which dropped to absolute silence. Without a single dissenting voice in the audience, the effect was as if time had stopped—one of many goose-bumps moments during the set. Indeed, the crowd’s silence throughout the night was deafening: The respect and awe of raucous applause and hollering contained in absolutely no sound at all.

While you’d expect covers from a band like First Aid Kit to include the typical hallowed country canon, they delivered some pleasant surprises. First a shout-out to fellow countrymen and early supporters the Knife (actually Fever Ray) with “When I Grow Up,” which was ethereal and magical under the sisters’ spell. For the encore, they paid tribute to Patti Smith, calling her the “coolest fucking woman on Earth” before a great version of “Dancing Barefoot.” Still, it was the best-in-genre originals that kept the audience floating above the fray. The set proper ended with the aptly titled “The Lion’s Roar,” and the night concluding, like the album, with a raucous “King of the World,” claps, guitars and two sublime voices. —A. Stein