What: Lykke Li
Where: El Rey Theatre
When: March 9th, 2011
Last night Lykke Li played before a sold out crowd at the El Rey Theatre in support of her new album Wounded Rhymes. The Swedish chanteuse has spent the week in Los Angeles making the Unofficial Promising New Indie Album Tour which consists of playing at Amoeba Records, on Morning Becomes Eclectic, and gracing the stage tomorrow at the Mondrian. However, all of this critical acclaim doesn't mean squat if an artist can't convert his album into a decent show.
Judging by the number of squeals that erupted from the crowd when the smoke machine went on for the first time before the show even started, Lykke Li doesn't have to worry. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Walking into the warm gloom of the El Rey one was surrounded with an inordinate number of ladies in shorts, black tights, and heels with devil-may-care long hair and flowing tops. A look which would have appeared mysterious and intriguing if there weren't so many of them.
What really helps the "woman of mystery" look is a good smoke machine, some strobe lights, streams of black fabric hanging from the ceiling, and unidentifiable industrial sound effects. By the time Lykke Li and the band took the stage, they looked like creatures emerging from the mists of some forbidden forest.
Nothing fuels the imagination like what you cannot see. The hint of a person is far more captivating than any shiny dress. From out of this stage thunderstorm came a high sweet voice imploring a lover to swear his fidelity in "Jerome." A sentiment which was immediately reversed by the second song, the hit off her debut album "I'm Good, I'm Gone," a punchy dance number that got the room moving.
Looking like a small general in a loose leather coat, Li marched around the stage with a pair of drum sticks firmly clasped in her hands, occasionally beating on cymbals when a song called for it, but mostly giving direction to the crowd. "We only live once, so dance while you can!" she commanded. She meant it too, further on in the set she looked up at the balcony and mocked, "How's the too cool to dance VIP section doing?"
It is this bluntness that makes her a star. If the set list is anything to go by, Lykke Li is not a woman to be trifled with nor is she a woman who beats around the bush. She takes her heartbreak and announces it to the world in a raw, candy-coated voice: Pleading a lover to stay, "I'd give anything, anything to have you as my man" ("Little Bit"), wrestling with heartache, "I ranted, I pleaded, I beg him not to go/For sorrow, the only lover I've ever known" ("Sadness is a Blessing") and announcing the unvarnished truth about a relationship, "All my love has been denied. All my love is unrequited" ("Unrequited Love"). All the mystery that's in the stage show contrasts with the unflinching honesty of her lyrics.
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Lykke Li chose her covers wisely. Both of them played to her strengths, vulnerability and a good dance beat. The first was Big Pink's "Velvet," for which she stripped all the industrial noise out of the original and turned it into an organic love song using an acoustic guitar and her band as the choir. The second was The Knife's "Silent Shout," an electronic number during which she beat the cymbals within an inch of their lives.
The highlight of the evening was the performance of her latest single, "Get Some." The hip-shaking drums and cheeky refrain ("I'm your prostitute. You're gon' get some.") proved irresistible. There is something delightful about listening to a room full of people sing that they're prostitutes over and over again. In the middle of the song Lykke Li ground it to a halt. The crowd wasn't dancing hard enough. Only with the audience's assurance that they'll do better, she started up again, the pit redoubling its efforts to obey her commands. By the end of the night if she had asked them to do the macarena while hopping on one foot they would have happily obliged. One can only hope that one day she will.