“We’re going to try an experiment,” Klara Söderberg informed the audience halfway through First Aid Kit‘s sold-out set at Webster Hall Wednesday night. “We’d like you, if you can, to just be really quiet for us for a minute.”
The crowd hushed, Klara disengaged her acoustic guitar, and Johanna Söderberg vacated her keyboard. The duo took a front-and-center spot at the stage edge, but before the sisters sang a duet of “Ghost Town” from their debut, The Big Black And The Blue LP, Klara asked those in the crowd to sing along if they knew the words, which many did. Humming with a thousand voices, Webster Hall became a sudden-onset prairie campsite, the stage’s neon starlight twinkling along.
Unplugged and unobstructed, the sisters Söderberg’s atmosphere-puncturing harmonies are just as chilling as when wailed carelessly into a microphone. But even if their experimental singalong had fallen flat, that Klara and Johanna even attempted it is a testament to their adoration and understanding of Americana tradition. Big ups to opener Peggy Sue, the U.K. trio of Rosa Rex, Katy Klaw and Olly Joyce, which put on an excellent, floor-stomping set in its own right. But where Peggy Sue takes a darker, rockier shot at post-folk harmonics, the Söderbergs approach songwriting past with such a reverent appetite there comes a palpable, undeniable love embedded within every lilting note they deliver. This love for their work makes a First Aid Kit performance a borderline transcendental experience. But then, their hair helps too.
Can we talked about their hair for a minute? It’s organic—the way Klara slashes her razor-straight locks through space in an auburn blur when she’s lost in one of her rare instrumental reprieves, or the way Johanna’s voluminous mane ripples in pillowy tufts as she orbits about her keyboard. This reviewer suspects if you shaved off the sisters’ blooming plumage—each encroaching on two, three-foot-long territory—it’d probably achieve sentience to form a band of its own, and it’d sound just as rich as First Aid Kit.
Anyway. The set was a balanced mix of tracks from The Big Black and First Aid Kit’s recent The Lion’s Roar LP, focusing on leading hits like “Blue” (given a thundering kickdrum drive by touring percussionist Mattias Bergqvist) and the name-checking country love song “Emmylou.” Beyond the unplugged “Ghost Town” singalong, the set’s surprise highlight was a cover of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot,” which the duo performed for Smith at Stockholm’s Polar Music Prize ceremony in a reportedly “life-changing experience” last year. While Klara maintained the melody, Johanna delivered the song’s spoken-word breakdown with a low, brutal confidence previously obscured by her tender duet work throughout the evening. Following this up with the celebratory “King Of The World,” also the closing track on The Lion’s Roar, First Aid Kit left the room twitching. As capable of performing unplugged country campfire fare as raw protopunk poems with chilling aptitude, Klara and Johanna Söderberg are two versatile voices just getting warmed up.