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If you only know Lykke Li for her appearance on the latest Twilight soundtrack album then you might just have got the impression that her talents are limited to the staid brooding of ‘Possibility’. But like most acts which feature on the soundtracks of conservative America’s favourite teen angst-fest, there’s more to Li Lykke Timotej Zachrisson. And with the first sunny days of Spring here the stage was set for Li to banish such preconceptions and draw focus back to the more artistic, idiosyncratic, often downright primal side of her work.

Like many Scandinavian acts, Lykke Li is too much of an individual to sit comfortably alongside traditional singer-songwriters. 2008’s debut album attracted attention for its eccentricity, but the accompanying live performance is far too ballsy to be labelled ‘quirky’ – Marina Diamandis she ain’t. In relation to other Nordic artists, Li is closer to Björk’s rabid Earth-child than Robyn’s fembot, although the intensity of her live show is comparable to both. Taking to her foggy, strobe-lit place at centre stage, her black outfit matched the windswept curtain behind her. A backing quartet included two percussionists and a bassist, whose visceral arrangements worked particularly well on older songs. Li smashed a cymbal and gesticulated with drumsticks during ‘I’m Good I’m Gone’, before the rampant drum breakdown of ‘Dance Dance Dance’ had the crowd enraptured. The thundering beats of the main portion of the set were occasionally split up by contrasting mellow songs, but their slowness and lack of variation punctured rather than punctuated the broader mood of her set. Li’s cover of the Big Pink’s ‘Velvet’ exhibited her piercing vocals to good effect, but the slow arrangement for organ and plodding drums meant that the song came across more as a chance to pause for breath than as anything special in its own right. It was a comfort to know that showstoppers like the refreshingly sordid single ‘Get Some’ were always around the corner.

After a set quite rightly dominated by the busier numbers, it was during the encore that a series of lovesick ballads finally justified their place in the show. Li’s fragile voice was accompanied by sparse strumming on acoustic guitar during ‘I Know Places’, which captured the depressive hollowness of heartbreak. Even more effective, ‘Sadness is a Virtue’ provided the most human moment of the evening, Li’s open facial expressions bathed in light at the centre of the stage. Despite these emotional conclusions, it was the earlier excitement that most dispelled any lingering myth that Lykke Li might be just another confessional singer-songwriter.

Words and photo: Peter Burgess
Video: Yatin Amin (from the London gig)