all words: William Alberque
all photos: Josh Sisk
Lykke Li and Grimes joined forces for an evening of completely absorbing electronic music that was nothing less than compelling. Watching Grimes is like seeing the joy of youth; Lykke Li is the joy of sadness, love, and loss. Not exactly a dance party, then, but a fantastic journey into the night.
Grimes is the stage name of Vancouver native and electronica performer Claire Boucher. Her approach to performance is simple – a microphone, a keyboard, a sampler, and a ton of pre-recorded loops. The songs are beautiful, hook-laden electro-pop, with Boucher’s lighter-than-air vocals buoyed by looped hard beats. A few of the earlier songs in the set showcase her wide range, as her voice dipped and soared briefly into a soulful delivery. Most of the time, she remains in the breathy helium-range of Lamb’s Lou Rhodes, though shorn of the jazz and drum’n’bass.
The next grouping of three songs sound like variations on a blissed-out dub version of A Forest as covered by Blank and Jones. The songs all merge into one another – seems more like apprehension about possible audience apathy than design – but Boucher is compelling to watch. She seems to need someone to help her operate the machinery from time to time. For instance, just when she closes her eyes to immerse herself in the song, she snaps her eyes open and turns to the sampler to trigger another sequence and then turns again to play another intricate keyboard riff.
I talked to Boucher briefly after her set, and she said she liked the flexibility of touring alone. I think next time around, she should rethink that. There’s something great about watching the interplay of a band and hearing what they can bring to the songs. Hopefully, between the acclaim she’s getting on this tour, and the great payday (nearly every date is sold out), she’ll be able to afford a full band.
Boucher finally stops long enough to give us time to clap, and we do, wildly. The songs become more intricate as she goes on, with the music built out of complex layers of electronica cutting out and firing back in, backward vocals looped and buried in the mix. It’s a very good set, but a bit too short. I think we will be hearing more from her soon. But we are all on tenterhooks waiting for the main act.
Lykke Li Timotej Zachrisson doesn’t do things by half measures, and tonight is another example of that. The stage is midnight black, with long, thin black curtains dividing the front of the stage (and, at one point, providing a handy head wrap to one of the performers) and stark lighting illuminating the quadrants of the stage. Two percussionists, a guitarist, a keyboardist, and a dedicated back-up singer join her to pound out the songs, with beautiful vocal harmonies filling out the dark tunes.
Lykke Li starts with an instrumental, flashing lights and rolling beats and swelling music that breaks suddenly, sailing directly into Jerome. The set list says the song is “Come Over,” but I would have expected it to be the cover of Tim Buckley’s “Lover, You Should Have Come Over.” Buckley seems exactly right for the message she’s sending tonight – namely, love is impossible and loneliness is the most likely outcome. Seems strange to make one feel so alone in a sold-out crowd so obviously sharing their complete and utter devotion to all things Li, but there you go.
This is odder still considering the shock of seeing her the first time she played the Black Cat. Then, I expected her to come out with an acoustic guitar and a laptop, possibly bringing one fragile Swedish guy along with her to operate the one instrument or another intermittently between bouts of looking sad and staring at his shoes. Instead, she burst onto stage looking like an ‘80s hip-hop video dancer, with all the attendant energy, and promptly dance out of her clothes. This time, she’s brought all the energy, dancing with abandon, assisting in pounding the drums, and generally being a dervish.
But the set itself is curiously low energy, with little of the cheeky fun of that first tour. And I suppose it’s a theme – she’s said in interviews how sad and alone she was during that first tour, and how cathartic this album has been for her. But, if that’s the case, why does this feel like such a dour, such a theatrically sad event?
I think part of it is because Lykke Li made the bold (if perplexing) decision to play the entirety of her new album, Wounded Rhymes, sounding exactly as the name suggests – a ten-song journey (eleven if you get the iTunes version) through sadness and loss…with a big dance beat. “Jerome” follows the intro and it is enormous and beautiful, romantic and sweeping. “I’m Good I’m Gone” from Youth Novels follows, with the magisterial “Sadness Is a Blessing” next. Silence is an amazing girl group homage, with tambourine and snare perfectly invoking the spirit of Spector.
The set is sequenced abysmally, with the energy from the opening foundering on the slow-burner “Paris Blue” from the “Get Some” single, introduced with the apt question – “have you ever had your heart broken – in Paris?” Well, sure, but this really wasn’t the right time to bring that up. Li brings the beat back with the compulsive “I Follow Rivers” (causing my dear friend Kristyn Wink to see-saw drunkenly) giving way to the brilliant ping-pong beats of “Dance Dance Dance.”
The live substitutions – sampled ping-pong balls giving way to most of the band on percussion, and a kazoo replacing the saxophone – are frankly astonishing. Li is upset – the audience is only now verging on a dance party, but it doesn’t quite take flight.
She gently castigates us, though, curiously, follows with a song few in the audience would have heard – the WR iTunes bonus track, “Made You Move” – followed by another deep track from the new album, “I Know Places.” The addition of male backup vocals on the past two songs was great, but it is difficult to dance to slow songs that you’re hearing live for the first time.
At this point, a man standing in front of me goes flat on his back, knocking drinks everywhere. I get the horrible view of his eyes open and fixed – how in the world do you fall flat on your back with your eyes wide open, unblinking? It sends me into a blind panic, thinking he’d died, but the people around him all bent down to help him, so I raced off to get staff. He seemed all right, but it further broke the spell and removed me from the mood of the evening.
“Little Bit” brought most of the crowd back in, prompting an unlikely sing-along, before slightly losing us again with “Love Out of Lust” and a medley of “Rich Kid Blues and “Silent My Song.” Both great songs, but not exactly likely to set off spontaneous dancing in the bleachers. There’s something Georgia O’Keefe-esque about this part of the set – something to do with the curtains, I suppose, which are blowing freely over the audience and dangling like a version of her vaginal flower paintings.
Li follows with what the setlist says is a slow-burner b-side from “Tonight,” called “Until We Bleed,” though I have in my notes that it was rather frantic and fast. Hm. After that bit of unrecognizable song, she sees fit to reward our patience with another instant classic, bathing the audience in the frantic insanity of the second album’s lead single, “Get Some.” The encore treats us to another two slow-burners, “Youth Knows No Pain,” and “Unrequited Love,” as well as the massively beautiful and shatteringly emotional “Possibility” from the exquisite Twilight: Eclipse Soundtrack (I know, I know but just trust me on this one).
Leaving us with a triptych of melancholy, unrequited love, and fucking vampires, she swanned off the stage, slightly sad herself in her inability to make us move.
I assure you, she moved us, but for a performer known for her infectious enthusiasm, for her ability to stun with the force of her genius, she could really use some advice on structuring a song list. It contained no shockers – like the previous tours’ inclusion of “Can I Kick It” or “A-Punk,” and she refused to play the covers that we could reasonable expect, such as the superb “Velvet” by the Big Pink, or “Silent Shout” by the Knife.
I can’t help but think the decision to play all of Wounded Rhymes was a bit self-indulgent, and excluding “Breaking It Up,” “Everybody But Me,” “Let It Fall,” or a rousing, percussive re-do of “Tonight” ensured a frustratingly uneven night. To be sure, these are quibbles, and the performance was absorbing, gorgeous, and fascinating. But…
(bonus: Read Josh’s thoughts, see more pictures, buy prints here)