Yes, this is an odd crowd of young, dressed-up, Red Bull-swilling twenty-something girls you might see in the Chinatown club scene. No, I wasn’t expecting this, either. Yes, she’s the one from the Peter Bjorn and John record. And no, she’s not Icelandic. She is from the same Sweden that’s nurtured groups like the Knife, the Hives, Jens Lekman, Miike Snow and Robyn.
Lykke Li has plenty in common with her home country. Both are under-appreciated anomalies known mainly for their adorable stereotypes: blonde hair, charisma, attraction to techno. But for those who’ve been to the country—or in this case, who’ve seen Lykke Li live—the wealth is in the details. And the only way I’ll be able to get to those details tonight is if I completely sever this chatty crowd from the woman who just walked onstage in a lengthy gown Stevie Nicks probably wore years ago.
Backed by a five-piece, percussion heavy band, Lykke Li had a lot to sing over. Yet, with drum sticks in hand and the occasional destructive escape on a nearby drum, she did just that. The stage lighting followed her every move, set to the electronic wood-block/clave sound that has become her signature mark. Lykke Li made a calculated attack on Portland, deflating at times—as in the slowed and unplugged remix of her own “Breaking It Up”—and exploding at others. After prefacing the song by admitting that sometimes she tires of herself, Lykke Li covered the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” a microKORG battle of radiating electronic missile-fire and animalistic percussion. A brief cease-fire was chased by the pulsating intro to “Until We Bleed.”
Newest record Wounded Rhymes is darker, louder and bigger by nature than Li's previous works. It’s also drenched in soul. “I Follow Rivers” sounds more like an Adele song than one of Li's, albeit an Adele tune bolstered by a big beat and other uptempo synthetics. Lykke Li danced through it all, a slaloming silhouette behind a thick cloud of stage fog. She even sways like Stevie Nicks, especially when flexing her gospel muscle on “Rich Kid Blues.” This track epitomizes her recent turn towards the blues, retrofitted with a Transylvania-esque organ riff Dracula himself would be proud of.
Everyone reached for their camera phone when the band touched on Kanye West’s “Power.” Lykke Li’s vocals, despite the amplification of a megaphone, were no match for the charging, tribal, clap-happy sample. She screamed the words to “Youth Knows No Pain” over it all, but nobody seemed to care: She could have said anything, the pit was busy dancing. Finishing with semi-hit “Little Bit” and super-swingy new single “Get Some,” my question was answered here at the end of the set: Lykke Li is in fact a diva, but a thoughtful one. Party-goers and careful listeners both had something to gain tonight.