First Aid Kit kicked off a regrettably abbreviated Stanley Park Concerts series last Tuesday. I can’t think of a better setting for the Swedish duo’s return to Vancouver after a five-year absence than the slanted grass of the Malkin Bowl. The band’s uplifting brand of earthy folk was right at home amidst the ancient trees of the park under a characteristic overcast sky, but everyone in the audience was happy that at least the rain held off during a lull in the unprecedented heatwave. There was a fun festival vibe in the venue with food trucks and plastic cups of white wine, and a sold-out crowd mapped out in a patchwork of blankets in a space where everyone has a great view.
Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg of First Aid Kit have been steeped in music since their formative years, getting radio play in Sweden from their first album when they were merely teenagers–not to mention being raised with a pop-rock star for a father. Since gaining traction early on in their motherland, the duo has since gained a devoted international following, and that is no exception here in Vancouver. Together they have filtered life experiences through a musical lens, from coming of age to the sting of heartbreak, as projected in their 2018 release Ruins. The girls are now touring their latest album Palomino, which was released last year and takes on a much more optimistic tone and a poppier aesthetic than previous efforts rooted deeper in country and folk.
Klara and Johanna were looking sunny and bright as they hit the stage, the former in a hot pink power suit wielding her guitar, and the latter in flared silver pants paired with pop art kimono with bass in hand. Their voices rang out satisfyingly crisp and clear as they set the stage with the eponymous song off the new record, the ray of pure sunshine that serves to conclude the album. They melded sweetly with their three-piece backing band as they flowed into another new offering “Angel” a pulsing number with lifting synth lines in the vein of Florence and the Machine.
As they continued to spin their latest songs, it was clear that at least one of the songwriting pair was touched with the throes of love during the writing process, as a heartstruck theme ran through the pieces. This was ever apparent in “The Last One”, a fun vintage-feeling track harkening to the likes of ABBA and Fleetwood Mac, crooning, “I wasted my time before I knew you.” In a more complex approach to romance, the duo performed album stand-out “Wild Horses II”, a lovely and well-composed slice-of-life simultaneously conjuring a beautiful moment in a relationship and a reflection on its embers, complete with a pleasing hummed refrain. Klara preceded the song by explaining that with Palomino, they really were on a mission to make a happy record. “Ruins was breakup record,” she said candidly. “It was pretty bleak. It’s hard to play those songs every night, so we thought, we have to make something that sounds a bit more hopeful. “And it does,” Johanna interjected playfully, “if you ignore the lyrics.” A break-up song disguised in cheerful wrapping paper.
The band featured snippets spanning their career in the setlist, highlighting their wide range of musical styles and influences. “Stay Gold” featured distinctive spaghetti western guitaring and unison singing to wistful lyrics, inciting clapping from the crowd. The band brought the frontier groove on into “Lion’s Roar”, which saw the frontwomen rocking out and flipping their hair. The band dropped to nothing for a fake-out ending before reprising the fiery guitar line. In a moment of pure ecstasy at the song’s peak, Klara dropped onto her back and started swinging her silver heel in the air to the beat, all the while strumming her electric guitar. The two possessed a real glam rock countenance, strutting the stage and shredding the solo in “Rebel Heart”, featuring yet another facet of their musical identity with a hypnotic keyboard line, sparse tom beats, and an epic feel with high flying wailing into the bridge.
“Does anyone like Fleetwood Mac?” the girls inquired, a basically rhetorical question in this crowd. Well known for their love of covers–having released an entire live cover album devoted to Leonard Cohen–the two decided to perform “Songbird” in tribute to the late Christine McVie. You could hear a pin drop as the pair came to the middle of the stage between their usual positions to share a microphone while trading lines in the beautiful song. It was an absolutely beautiful and tender rendition guaranteed to give you goosebumps as the two delivered a perfectly harmonized duet.
First Aid Kit continued their retrospective, playing “Ghost Town”, from their first record, a song inspired by having their dad drive them around to play shows in their musical nascence. Continuing to stand bare and unplugged with just Klara’s acoustic guitar for accompaniment, she painted a picture of innocence, Joanna joining in midway to add an ethereal echo of harmony. It was a folk song in the historic sense, with a beautifully spun narrative, eliciting a large cheer at the mention of Vancouver written into the lyrics. The two continued in a folk roots vein with “Hem of Her Dress”, a sea-shanty-like ditty requiring audience participation for the la di da singalong of the chorus. The tune steadily built as bandmates meandered out to join centerstage wielding a mandolin, an accordion, and a large bass drum.
The set wound down with what the duo described as “a song about the joys of playing with the people you love”, the undeniable fan favourite “Emmylou” that launched them into notoriety. Of course, they couldn’t end the night there, not without an outfit change for the encore at least. The pair came back in their full glam fantasy, rocking a silver sequined dress with shining fringe and a long rhinestoned gown respectively. Stomping across the stage in “feeling myself” boots to the new anthemic bop “Out of My Head”, the duo exuded happiness to be back out doing what they love on the world’s stage. And nothing could capture the sentiment of so many bands still stepping out into the world for the first time post-pandemic than their rousing cover of Willie Nelson’s “On the Road Again”.
The positivity of the night radiated across every moment, despite touching on the emotional highs and lows that come with living life to the fullest. I would say their mission with the Palomino tour was well and truly accomplished. So what better way to end the night than with the hopeful hit “My Silver Lining”, a sort of mantra to “keep on keeping on”. The joy was obviously contagious, as I could hear concert-goers humming the final melody as they dispersed into the park at dusk.
Find First Aid Kit Tickets!
It’s a Shame
The Last One
The Lion’s Roar
Wild Horses II
Songbird (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Hem of Her Dress
Feeling That Never Came
Out of My Head
King of the World (ended with band introductions… more )
On the Road Again (Willie Nelson cover)
My Silver Lining
Photos © Jason Martin