15 May, 2014: Swedish folk sensation First Aid Kit brought their astounding new album Stay Gold to London for a mesmeric show at Islington Assembly Hall. Check out our stunning photos of the gig here.
For more information on Islington Assembly Hall, find them on Facebook here.
"I remember our first gig in London," announces Johanna Söderberg moments after First Aid Kit have taken to their golden-cloaked stage. “We got the day off school".
It isn’t entirely surprising that she remembers it - it wasn’t as long ago as one might think. The Swedish sisters may suggest, with their complex, insightful lyrics and effortlessly powerful vocals, that they have a wealth of years between them, but in fact, Johanna is barely out of her teens. The band’s age, however, is essentially an irrelevance – there is no need to take it into consideration, because by any standards, their performance is incredible.
As the release of their third album, Stay Gold, approaches, any trouble they may have had in embodying the maturity of their records onstage has been overcome, and their vocal and instrumental ability would be the envy of even the most accomplished musician. The only way in which Johanna, who is the younger of the two, occasionally betrays her youth, is with her playful, rock star stage persona, which is as delightfully endearing as it is jarring. She head bangs through the entirety of ‘The Lion’s Roar’, and occasionally yells, with a spirited exuberance, “I CAN’T HEAR YOU LONDON. DO YOU WANT ANOTHER SONG?”
As much as their infectiously energetic presence is reason enough to watch First Aid Kit live, it is the tightness of their harmonies which impresses most. The two have performed together from such a young age that their voices seem to have grown as one. No matter how much Klara’s vocals swoop and soar around the melody, Johanna stays with her, just above or just below, adding a rich depth to their live sound which more than justifies a recent booking by the Royal Albert Hall.
At one point the duo step to the front of the stage, without microphones, and perform a beautiful and unamplified version of ‘Ghost Town’. It is a mark of the respect they’ve earned from their fans that the 1,000 strong crowd is, apart from when encouraged to gently sing the chorus, silent throughout. If there’s any competitiveness, or tension, that comes with working and performing with your sister, First Aid Kit aren’t ones to let it show.
When Johanna’s voice occasionally strains and cracks - at one point she even momentarily clutches her chest (a little too much rock star screaming, perhaps), Klara looks over to her with concern, not annoyance. Their stage patter, delivered in perfect American-accented English, consists of the two interrupting each other almost constantly, and yet they remain cohesive and coherent. When the band return for an encore, they perform an immersive, reworked cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘America’ which they first performed at Sweden’s Polar Music Prize to Paul Simon himself, the only person in the audience to give them a standing ovation. They may not have written the lyrics, but when the song reaches its climax with “’Kathy, I’m lost’, I said, though I knew she was sleeping,” they’re able to summon such a pained, heart-wrenching tone that it’s easy to forget the words are not their own.
In an interview earlier in the day, the band explained that Simon was alone in his ovation because the King of Sweden was sitting a few rows down, before whom, unbeknownst to Simon, it is considered rude to stand. Tonight, as their set comes to an end, there is no royalty in attendance, and the entire balcony rises to its feet.