It’s a week like this that makes us love the magical world of popular music. Just a few days ago we watched a rather loud and bombastic set from that Miley Cyrus character, a veritable kaleidoscope (with a flying hotdog). Tonight, at Village Underground in East London, the mood could not be any disparate as Lykke Li and her band take their places in solemn monochrome, and the result is no less memorable.
Li sashays on to the sound of the title track of her stellar new album, I Never Learn. Charisma abounds on stage as she courses through the pain of Just Like A Dream and No Rest For The Wicked, which sound just as enthralling here as they do on record. And then comes her masterstroke: Li requests that the audience put their phones away as she’d like to ‘get intimate’, and suddenly the entire energy changes. Li gives her all to the performance and rightly expects us to do the same – we hold back tears and take in gut-spilling renditions of Love Me Like I’m Not Made of Stone and album highlight Never Gonna Love Again (which is backed by harmonies so tight they might as well be from The Supremes).
What comes across during the gig – besides Li’s playful ability to throw in some Beyoncé and Kanye samples, no big deal – is just how incredibly strong her back catalogue is, stomping as she does through Little Bit, Rich Kids Blues, and Get Some. The only downside, as expected, is that there’s some loss of feeling between studio and stage for the new music: intimate torch songs become cavernous, a candlelit Dear John letter becomes a bright billboard. Then again, such is the power of these songs that even a half-arsed performance would make them shine. In the hands of a performer like Lykke Li, however, they simply flourish even further.