Ah, Niki and the Dove – I found out about them through the Guardian and the NME in late 2010, followed soon by their debut single on the superb Moshi Moshi label. That song, “DJ, Ease My Mind,” with its pounding drums and epic, sweeping vocals, resonated strongly with me. Other online tracks, like the brilliant “Mother Protect,” coming before the new Florence record, but soon after decent but unmemorable releases from Bat for Lashes, Lykke Li, and the Fever Ray/the Knife, filled my need for weird-y percussive pixie-woman-fronted night music.
I was surprised and thrilled to find out that Neon Gold were bringing yet another amazing DC debut to us – Niki and the Dove live, at the U Street Music Hall. Unfortunately, there was one glitch. The first band took the stage more than an hour and a half after the advertised time, with no explanation. It was Gordon Voidwell on first. Gordon’s from the Bronx and plays ‘80s-inflected pop-funk-electro – think a male-fronted Pointer Sisters. It wasn’t what I expected as the opener for Niki and the Dove, and I was having none of it.
Lead singer Malin Dahlström is dressed extravagantly oddly – like an ‘80s impression of a thrift store Shaman with an art degree – and songwriter Gustaf Karlöf looks dapper and smart. They have a drummer with them live, adding a depth to the music – the pounding toms adding to the drum machine and sequencers, with Gustaf adding keys and vox. Malin is full of energy, dancing and moving with the grace of a young Nina Hagen.
Malin and Gustaf have been together for a long time, and I’m suspicious enough that they’ve genre-surfed to get attention after a few failed attempts at success. Fortunately, Niki and the Dove transcended my hopes and delivered the goods. Really, if you want to see what it was like, live, watch the video. It’s exactly what you get.
Niki and the Dove start with what seems like a joyously extended version of “Mother Protect,” ending with a crazy dulcimer outro, giving the half-full crowd their chance to welcome the band with a wild round of applause. Malin thanks the crowd – she says this is the first time she’s been to DC – before launching into the next song. The songs are all deeply emotional, and Malin’s unrestrained dancing and emotive singing is truly irresistible. I’m definitely feeling this. The similarities to Lykke Li are manifest, but Niki and the Dove are far warmer, more natural, with a real feeling of wanting to connect with the crowd.
“The Fox” and “The Drummer” both get run-outs – with the massive chorus of the former and the New Order-ish fade of the latter engaging the audience in dancing and mass arms-waving. The next song is slower, more sensual (“Last Night”?), and Malin revels in the sensuality of it, waving a feathered fan. She dons neon finger sleeves for “Under the Bridges” – a percussive, driving song with icy keyboards driving through its heart and a clapped outro.
This is the point in the evening where I can’t believe they’re not playing the mainstage at the Cat or even opening at the 930. The energy levels are enormous, and the songs are perfect. I’m starting to worry that they won’t play my favorite when I don’t recognize the intro to the next song, but the slow, building, beautiful intro bursts into life, and, yes, it’s “DJ, Ease My Mind.” I’m beyond ecstatic. A few more magical moments like that, and they’re off, I’m breathless, and the night’s over. Here, watch this, enjoy yourself, and I hope you see them next time they’re here.