First Aid Kit at the Buckhead Theatre, Atlanta, GA, October 4, 2012. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
If I didn’t already know that Johanna and Klara Söderberg were from Stockholm, Sweden, I would’ve probably thought it not out of place that the two girls belting out country-tinged calls to the heavens on stage at the Buckhead Theatre Thursday night wrote those songs under stormy Georgia skies. I do know they are Swedish, and I still have a twinge of belief in the back of my mind that they’re really channeling the spirit of other red clay-kicking troubadours that have come before them, bringing some of the purest rural folklore this side of the Mississippi to the audience. The fact is, though, they’re not for me to claim as proudly Georgian, and the webs they weave were done so while kicking up clay as unfamiliar to me as the ethos of their music is familiar. Whatever stormy sky cleansed their souls to give them the ability to write songs like they do may not be the same one that hovers over my world, but through their music any person born under any sky can be connected to theirs, feel the Söderberg sisters’ rain as their own, and to see the rich stories in First Aid Kid’s songs played out in their own memory’s landscape.
The entire evening was about the power of the connectivity of a song. Show opener Dylan LeBlanc displayed his gift of connecting to an audience, largely unfamiliar with his music, right off the bat. Coming on the heels of his second full-length album, Cast The Same Old Shadow, LeBlanc immediately stunned the unsuspecting crowd with his completely timeless voice and infectious energy on stage. The Shreveport, Louisiana songwriter seemed to wander out of some long-ago past, the tails of his brown trench coat still flowing, where his songs resonated as classics even when falling freshly upon open ears. He split his set up evenly across his two records, opening the night off with the gorgeous “Low,” a pedal-steel accompanied drive down a country road, singing, “I’ll be feeling alright when I can’t feel.” Something tells me that LeBlanc just can’t help but feel, however. There was a practically tangible passion for his music as he played amplified versions of songs like “Emma Hartley” and “Innocent Sinner,” the type of feeling that truly stands out to me as making LeBlanc a special figure in today’s musical landscape. He could hardly hide his emotion as he introduced Klara Söderberg for “If The Creek Don’t Rise,” a track featuring Emmylou Harris on his debut record Paupers Field. The two weaved their voices around one another beautifully, sounding like life-long singing partners just doing what they do best. The most surprising part of LeBlanc’s set, however, was the band’s rendition of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.” Giving the track a rusty Americana tone, LeBlanc pulled out a shimmering falsetto that showed just how dynamic of an artist he is. By the end of his set, I think a lot of us didn’t quite want him to leave yet.
The Buckhead Theatre began to fill up—the balcony was closed off to give the show a bit more of an intimate feel, and by the time First Aid Kit took the stage, the floor was mostly full with eager bodies. Johanna and Klara, accompanied by drummer Mattias Bergqvist, took the stage as atmospheric music led the dim lights to bouncing around like stars catching your eye on a long drive, and worked their way into “In The Morning,” the opening track from their first record, The Big Black & Blue. Starting the show off with a song not on their breakout LP The Lion’s Roar was a message to the crowd that there is much more to the band than what the casual fan might be aware of. The entire set was well-proportioned, in fact. They mixed in the older songs perfectly with the new. Their voices filled every nook and cranny of the Buckhead Theatre with the type of harmonic control that I believe only can come from their blood connection. They have such an understanding of each other’s voices and throughout the entire set there was never a wasted note.
First Aid Kit has the uncanny ability to uplift a person’s spirit while simultaneously breaking their heart, a gift on display most of all on The Lion’s Roar cut, “Blue.” The track bounces merrily enough, while telling the story of a formerly full-of-life soul who lost the love of their life at a young age and was “Now just a shell of your former you / That stranger in the mirror, oh, that’s you / Why do you look so blue?” The performance of this song in particular was stirring; Klara’s vocal rang clear and full as it bounced around the theatre, bringing sympathy to the audience from every angle. Everyone in the crowd basically stood stunned for the duration of First Aid Kit’s set, astonished at the sheer power that such simplistic beauty can hold. One of the most poignant moments of the show was when Klara and Johanna stepped out from behind their microphones and allowed their booming voices to project over the silent crowd naturally on “Ghost Town.” Were the floor in the Buckhead Theatre not carpeted, you could’ve heard a pin drop—you definitely could’ve heard the ill-timed ringtone play its song, but that’s neither here nor there. It was a beautiful moment as the crowd sang along to “Ghost Town” as if we were all just at a campfire gathering thrown by the Söderbergs.
After delivering a stunning rendition of fellow Swede Fever Ray’s “When I Grow Up,” converting her menacing electronics to rustic nature, Johanna and Klara asked the crowd to sing one more time for their biggest hit to date, “Emmylou.” It’s funny at a concert like First Aid Kit’s—there is an obvious divide between those that really want to give the band what they ask for, join in on the fun and belt the infectious chorus back at them, and those that are just too mesmerized to sing. After all, what could we possibly add that would make the rich simplicity and more lovely? Well, people sang, Klara’s voice still soared above like a guide to her amassed choir, and really everyone got what they wanted. It was just the type of moment that makes live music so special, the beautiful communal atmosphere that a song can breed. First Aid Kit closed their main set with an intensified version of “The Lion’s Roar,” Johanna throwing her hair back with complete abandon on each massive organ strike sounding like thunder rumbling across a country prairie.
Only Johanna and Klara came back out for the encore at first, telling the crowd about how they recently had the honor of playing for Paul Simon at his awarding of the Polar Music Prize, and that they would like to play that song for us. The sisters went into Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” once again leaving the crowd in an astonished hush. The way Klara’s finger-picked guitar rolled underneath their harmonies—admittedly indebted to the work of Simon & Garfunkel—like the expansive American landscape itself, showed the passion behind their craft the Söderbergs share, the same way the narrator in “America” feels the limitless potential of America. It was a stunning moment among a slew of stunning moments throughout the night, but one that perhaps reverberated within me the most. Before I even had time to really reflect on this, however, Bergqvist took the stage, along with Dylan LeBlanc, for a rousing rendition of “King Of The World” to close the night off. It was a blur of flying hair and vocal interplay as First Aid Kit sent us out into the night, leaving me to reflect the limitless power of music, and the connective nature of a song, on my own time.
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