All words: William Alberque
All photos: Joy Asico
When I first saw this bill, I thought it two brief sets on the Backstage to a sparse crowd. How wrong I was. Instead, First Aid Kit and Peggy Sue played a beguiling set of lovely but melancholy folk to a sold-out mainstage of adoring fans. While the two bands were very good at complementing each other’s sounds, ultimately it was just a little bit too much folk/antifolk for one night.
Peggy Sue went on first. Hailing from Brighton, the three piece is made up of two singers/guitarists, and a drummer. The singers, Rosa Rex, Katy Klaw (I’m pretty sure those aren’t their real names), sing in beautifully polyphonic harmonies, slightly Appalachian in tone, with drummer Olly Joyce keeping perfect time. They make an extraordinarily melancholy sound; a bit Kristen Hersh at times, but the harmonies add something really bewitching to the mix. They use electric guitar in intriguing ways as well, with the insistent drums adding needed energy to the set. Still, as pretty as they sound, it can all be a bit bleak
Fortunately, First Aid Kit’s unrelenting beauty was the perfect complement to the melancholy of Peggy Sue. Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg just can’t help but sound warm and inviting, and look beautiful in matching sequined tops. FAK start with “This Old Return,” with “Hard Believer” following, and I’m struck by the quality of the drumming. The melodies soar, and the guitars complement each other, but the bold brush strokes of the drums make it much more than bedroom music.
The Söderberg sisters sweetly greet the crowd, calling this their first proper DC show, and play “Blue” from the new album (The Lion’s Roar). “In the Hearts of Men” starts with a shuffling, Concretes-like beat, but the energy is starting to flag a bit. “Heavy Storm” is folking things up a bit, and my attention is waning just a touch. “Emmylou” is predictably dedicated to…Johnny Cash? All right, time to pick things up.
“New Year’s Eve,” and “Ghost Town” follow, both fine, but really by this point, I’m just waiting for their cover of “When I Grow Up.” I don’t have to wait too much longer – “To a Poet” and “Wolf” stand between me and my goal. “Wolf” crosses a bit into Knife territory, so, their ability to turn a Fever Ray track form something so odd and slightly intimidating into something so warm and inviting is hardly surprising. They segue into “Dance Another Tune,” and I’m now kind of regretting these two bands as a double act. What I wouldn’t give to a clear blast of rock to clear the air?
“Tangerine” and “The Lion’s Roar” close out the set, and the encores include a Patti Smith cover (“Dancing Barefoot”) and the title track from the new album, “King of the World.” Lovely stuff, but just a bit too much of the same – I needed to bee-line it to DC9 to get my pulse racing again. Even then, I felt like I just needed a hug. Preferably, from a beautiful Swedish folk singer.