First Aid Kit at the Cedar, 4/07/12

First Aid Kit
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
Saturday, April 7, 2012

First Aid Kit gave Twin Cities music fans a small taste of the majesty of their new record, The Lion's Roar, during an opening set for Lykke Li back in November at a far too noisy First Avenue. Thankfully, the Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg wasted little time returning to Minneapolis for a headlining performance, and wisely picked the Cedar Cultural Center for their show, an intimate venue that not only perfectly compliments their sound but one that is regularly filled with respectful audiences who are there to listen to the music and not to chat.

And that reverential behavior was clearly rewarded on Saturday night, as First Aid Kit treated the sold-out but (mostly) stone silent Cedar crowd to a captivating 80-minute set which found their passionate fans connecting even more deeply with their stirring songs.

The two young sisters from Stockholm took the stage dressed in long, flowery dresses, and were backed only by a drummer, who augmented their lovely melodies with spare rhythms that gave the numbers a pulse but never outshone Johanna's bouncy keys and Klara's acoustic guitar strains. But their soaring, pitch-perfect vocals were the true stars of the show, as their poignant songs easily carried to all corners of the small room and well into the hearts of the rapt audience.

The set opened with slow-burning versions of "This Old Routine" and "Hard Believer," but it seemed the band were just getting settled after a hectic day driving up from Chicago. Klara greeted the crowd by announcing, "I think there's a reason why so many Swedes settled in Minneapolis. They felt comfortable here, and so do I." And with that, the band launched into a truly wonderful rendition of "Blue," which established a firm bond with the crowd that would keep strong the rest of the show.

Deeply evocative versions of "In The Hearts Of Men," and "Heavy Storm" (which they warmly dedicated to openers Peggy Sue) soon followed, as the sisters sang fervently of hard-earned life-lessons that belied their young age. It often seems that when bands play their 'Big Hit,' the song either comes across as a bit of a let down because it's already been overplayed, or the rest of the show pales in comparison because the 'Big Hit' is far superior to their other material. But in the case of "Emmylou," the heartfelt ode to Johanna and Klara's musical heroes, the track not only sounded as vital and moving as if we were all hearing it for the first time, but began a riveting portion of the show that transformed the already great performance into a truly special one.

The drummer left the stage as Johanna picked up an autoharp to join Klara's delicate acoustic guitar on a hushed version of "New Year's Eve." The sisters then announced that they were going to try a little experiment, but they needed us all to be completely quiet for a second. The Cedar grew completely still, so Johanna and Klara smiled and stepped to the front of the stage to do a stunning unamplified version of "Ghost Town" that turned into a heartwarming singalong with the crowd. It was a glorious moment.

It would be understandable if the show hit a bit of a lull after such a moving number, but the drummer returned for a rousing version of "To A Poet," which surely must have resonated with anyone who has lived through a cold Minnesota winter. The menacing rhythms and soaring harmonies of "Wolf" kept the momentum going, before Klara took a moment to speak fondly of Karin Andersson (The Knife/Fever Ray), who played a crucial role in the early stages of First Aid Kit's career, releasing their first EP, Drunken Trees. They paid tribute to her by passionately covering Fever Ray's "When I Grow Up," which didn't feature the moody electronics of the original but was still a spirited rendition.

After a mercurial version of "Dance To Another Tune," the sisters mentioned that their dad was running the soundboard for them on their tour, which endeared them even further with the packed house. After a lively run through of "I Met Up With The King" found the sisters headbanging in time with the song's riotous finish (and Johanna almost toppling her keyboard in the process), the main set closed with an impassioned take on "The Lion's Roar," which saw the band off to a rousing ovation.

After a brief break, the band opened the encore with a bold cover of "Dancing Barefoot," by the "Coolest woman on Earth," Patti Smith. It was an intense version, as any cover of Smith's songs should be, and showed yet again that not only were Klara and Johanna interested in taking their music into a new direction, but they were well aware of those who made their distinct mark on the scene well before them. The evening closed with a truly celebratory rendition of "King Of The World," which again got the crowd singing and clapping right along with the band, and ended the night exuberantly.

There's little doubt that First Aid Kit will eventually return to sell-out First Avenue's Mainroom on their own, and with a performance as truly memorable as this one, you can rest assured that the audience will actually be listening next time.

Critic's Notebook:

Personal Bias: Out of all of the fantastic shows coming through the Twin Cities during the spring, this was the one I had been looking forward to the most. And it exceeded even my lofty expectations.

The Crowd: A nice cross-section of the music fans in the area, both young and old, as well as a few Swedes who tried to converse with the band in their native tongue.

Overheard In The Crowd: "They make me want to grow my hair long again."

Random Notebook Dump: London-based Peggy Sue opened the night with a boisterous blend of blues, folk, garage-rock, and country, and even covered Ray Charles ("Hit The Road Jack") and Martha and the Vandellas ("Heat Wave") during their engaging, entertaining set. 


This Old Routine

Hard Believer


In The Hearts Of Men

Heavy Storm


New Year's Eve

Ghost Town

To A Poet


When I Grow Up (Fever Ray)

Dance To Another Tune

I Met Up With The King

The Lion's Roar

Dancing Barefoot (Patti Smith)(Encore)

King Of The World (Encore)

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