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May 25th, 2011
When Lykke Li first debuted in 2008, there was a widespread agreement that she was a refreshing take on modern pop music. Her fuzzy, whispery vocals combined with a heavy bass, electronic-acoustic infused sound was infectious. Her lyricism was simple, but relatable, with the content an obvious reflection of adolescent woes and heartbreak. “Cute,” the critics said. Lykke Li is cute.
However, when given the opportunity to perform live, Lykke Li proves herself worthy of a whole lot more than a word that can describe a basket of baby kitty cats – she is vengeful, fearless, powerful, and vulnerable, yet so in control of the music, the stage, and the audience. To put it colloquially, she is a BAWSE. And she absolutely owned the Phoenix this past Sunday in Toronto.
There were no lack of theatrics during Sunday’s sold out show. From the billowing black curtains hanging from the ceiling, to the fog machines, to the white strobe lights, it was clear from the beginning of the show that Lykke Li intended to submerge herself into a mysterious, twisted world where she could relive the experiences that inspired her music to begin with. No doubt an eerie place, but one the audience was happy to get transported into for the 80 minute long set the Swedish singer played.
After a heavy electronica intro under which her five-member back up band assembled, Lykke Li seemed to have appeared out of thin air. Dressed in a black smock, the singer immediately fell into a deep despair as she opened the show with her song Jerome, a track about the desire for love and the despair born out of its dissimilarities with reality. Throughout her performance, Lykke Li embraced her music, reaching towards the audience with her arms stretched as if the aforementioned boyfriend was there within her grasp. She twisted, turned, and swayed to the rhythms of all of her songs, even if the lyrics didn’t call for a dance.
But that is precisely why Lykke Li triumphs as an artist. Her sense of adaptability was so apparent as she worked a well-balanced set of songs, inspiring movement and screams from a crowd that was getting as involved with the music as the singer herself. The biggest and perhaps the best moments of the night were her performances of songs from her sophomore effort, Wounded Rhymes. Never have I heard percussionists perform so large as hers did during songs like Rich Kids Blues and I Follow Rivers, with their booming drum sounds bouncing off the walls and hitting every single person during the process. But even the quieter moments, such as Velvet, I Know Places and Love Out of Lust had their own romantic charm, and drew us into this incredibly complex and stellar star that was within our presence.
Of course, her show would be incomplete without her “cute” moments. Performances of Dance, Dance, Dance and her break out single Little Bit took us back to a lighter, more curious and slightly less tainted Lykke Li, the one that caught our attention a few years ago. But when she launched into a surprising, but well received performance of her Kleerup collaboration Until We Bleed, transforming the Phoenix into a club like scene with heavy strobes and bass, and concluded the main performance with her recent hit Get Some, we were quickly reminded that today’s Lykke Li is the one that demanded more than just a quick look – she demanded respect.
An immense amount at that, and that’s why the audience was left stunned, but not completely satisfied. Returning to finish the dance party, Li concluded the night with the roaring anthem Youth Knows No Pain, which delved off of its original production and was sung over an instrumental version of Kanye West’s Power. A performance of the haunting Possibility, which caused me to emit a fangirlish scream – and no, not because it’s affiliated with Twilight, and the even quieter Unrequited Love wrapped things up. Within moments, we snapped out of the dark realm and fell back into reality.
That’s when I realized that as quickly as Lykke Li had us enraptured, she had let us go. Some may think it’s because our love was unrequited, but that’s far from the truth. After all, we were left with a memory of the pits of the singer’s wounded rhymes. And that’s one memory that cannot be forgotten.
I’m Good, I’m Gone
Sadness is a Blessing
Velvet (The Big Pink cover)
I Follow Rivers
Dance, Dance, Dance
Made You Move
I Know Places
Love Out of Lust
Rich Kids Blues/Silent My Song
Until We Bleed
Youth Has No Pain