A pint-sized, Nordic hurricane descended on the Hotel Cafe Monday night, and it held a megaphone in its hand. With her three instrument-swapping boys to her back, Lykke Li affected the pose of an adorable sergeant as she issued a command to the packed house: “You be the drums.” This, in the final minutes of her set for the Justice-via-Stevie Nicks banger “Breaking It Up,” was enough to cause all forks and drinks to drop. The Cafe’s usual intimacy was sublimated into a sweaty mist, as the crowd clapped, swayed and shimmied at the behest of a bullhorn-toting, furiously dancing Swede. “Girls are so much cooler than guys,” someone whispered to a friend. And she was right.
Following an inspired, if not misguided, set from KCRW favorite Emily Wells (with all due respect to the local violin- and voice-looping virtuoso, CocoRosie pretty much owns the spooky, cooing, art-hop symphony thing), Li arrived wielding a drumstick like a conductor’s wand. In a short black dress and an assortment of silver necklaces, with rings on her fingers and pained puppy-dog eyes, she required no introduction. Whether or not the audience actually knew the name of Stockholm’s rising star—whose sticky Björn Yttling-produced LP debut, Youth Novels, was released in August—they were immediately enrapt. When she poutily asked after her opening blast of artsy, electro-tinged pop, “Are you ready to dance? Why are you so quiet?” her presumption was justified: we just were too busy staring.
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It might have been Li’s presence, fierce despite that near-treacly croon. It could have been the supreme lushness her band achieved as single “Little Bit” crested over that spare stage. It probably wasn’t the cover of Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” (even though their version channeled Graceland far better than the original). But there was something about seeing Lykke Li so clearly in her element that hearkened back to Feist’s 2005 stop at the Fonda where she nearly upstaged her former band, Broken Social Scene. Li too rolls with a talented crew (a live video version of her latest single “I’m Good, I’m Gone” features members of the Shout Out Louds and the Concretes, as well as pop siren Robyn), but it’s not hard to imagine the 22-year-old vamping under her own Apple-provided spotlight in the not too distant future. - Chris Martins