First Aid Kit at Varsity Theater, 6/3/14

First Aid Kit
with Willy Mason
Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Indie rock resembles classic country music more than current country music does these days. Each piece written, and even their covers, by the Söderberg sisters ties in storytelling and detail to notes that is lost in the pop country world. Younger sister Klara, on acoustic guitar, carries much of the vocals with her twang -- reminiscent of Neko Case -- and wields it like an extra instrument. Johanna, on keys, extends the harmonies and lifts the vocals to another level.

The Söderberg sisters performed as a quartet with drummer Niclas Lindstrom and a pedal steel player late Tuesday night at the Varsity Theater to a sold-out crowd. Johanna and Klara  blend delicious harmonies and have gold stage costumes that sparkle as they headbang on stage.

The lilt in their yodel-like calling on "Shattered and Hollow" tilted the song back and forth as they declared, "We're gonna get out of here." For such young songwriters, 23 and 21, Johanna and Klara pack in a lot of emotion, as if they've shouldered all of the heartache in the world by themselves. The two are excellent in delivery and sound exactly like their albums -- which was to their detriment at times.

It wasn't until almost midway through the show, when they Johanna got out from behind her keys and she and Klara took to center stage with the guitar for an acoustic version of the haunting "Ghost Town" that the night shifted. The piece plays out about wandering love and past lives that was lost over time, allowed to live via the existence of harmonies that are signature to the sisters.

Although the evening was bathed in gold, "My Silver Lining" -- not to be confused with Rilo Kiley's "Silver Lining" -- helped steer the evening in another direction. The song, driven by the bass drum, showcases the new sound on their new album Cedar Lane. If their last album The Lion's Roar was built on a bed of Appalachian woodland sounds during the day, Cedar Lane is the shift to sunset and resolve at the end of the night. "Wolf" is another example in the newer sound, relying on drums to carry the bed of the song, yet Johanna's voice cuts the listener to the core with her wailing.

The most curious visual of the evening came in the form of headbanging to their indie-rock material. The question was not really can you, but should you? The answer: yes. Yes, you can. "The Lion's Roar" moved like a train just getting its rails moving, and built up to an epic chorus that has Klara wailing, "I'm a goddamn coward, but then again so are you," and Johanna pounded on the keys as her hair whipped all over the stage.
As a nod to Robert Frost (and S.E. Hinton) and the stage set, "Stay Gold" closed out the regular set, incorporating lines from Frost's poem "Nothing Gold Can Stay." As the girls beside me were voicing their disappointment by the lack of their hit song "Emmylou" from the evening, the sisters came back to the stage to share their version of Simon and Garfunkel's "America" and another new piece, "Master Pretender," a song that they were proud to share because it contained their first explicit lyric.

While some of their pieces from The Lion's Roar can be a hit or miss, set-closer "Emmylou" showed these sisters had something magical. It namedrops Johnny and June Carter Cash along with Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, but never in a cheesy way. The piece opened with the haunting steel pedal and acoustic guitar before building to full band when the chorus hits and the harmonies come in. Full of heartache, but also of promise, the song is partly an homage to country music. But in essence it's an amazing love song that never once utters the word love.

Critic's bias: Let's be honest, I was hooked on these sisters since the first time I heard "Emmylou," but yes, they are so much more than their hit singles.

The crowd: Young college-aged girls with a smattering of middle-agers and young men.

Overheard in the crowd: "Oh, this song is from that one poem that's in The Outsiders."

Random notebook dump: Johanna Söderberg has an uncanny resemblance to Dakota Fanning.


Shattered and Hollowed
King of the World
Waitress Song
In the Hearts of Men
Cedar Lane
Ghost Town
My Silver Lining
One More Cup of Coffee (Bob Dylan cover)
Heaven Knows
The Lion's Roar
Stay Gold

America (Simon and Garfunkel cover)
Master Pretender

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