Lykke Li seduces Berlin with ‘Wounded Rhymes’

Lykke Li in Berlin's Astra Kulturhaus. Copyright: Caitlin Hardee, Nomad News

Lykke Li performs in Berlin’s Astra Kulturhaus. Copyright: Caitlin Hardee.

A queen of indie pop in the kingdom of minimal techno: On Tuesday, April 29, Sweden sent another of its most successful music exports, Lykke Li, to make waves in the German capital. The songstress from Sverige is a rippling vision onstage in Astra Kulturhaus, long locks falling loose, draped in a glittering carbon-paned jacket she sheds to reveal a flowing, silky black shirt over sleek leggings. Meandering in a languid reverie across the stage, her emotive brand of dreampop wraps the crowd in the warm embrace of a secret hideaway, a window seat with rain falling, a hot drink on a cold morning, a long bath after a breakup.

Favoring understatement in her movements, she clings to the mic stand or dances slowly through a private world, using her hands to mold the atmosphere, exhorting her rhapsodic audience with pale fingers flashing through the spotlights, punctuating her gospel with an arm flung emphatically forward, voices of the crowd rising in response.

Lykke Li in Berlin's Astra Kulturhaus. Copyright: Caitlin Hardee, Nomad News“Can I get some whiskey to the stage, please,” she murmurs in a break between songs. The crowd whistles appreciatively. “This song is really naked… for me. Can I have some more guitar as well?” Two acoustic guitars frame her like heralds as she delivers a subdued, vulnerable ballad, “Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone.”

With a veritable choir of backing vocals from her band, blending male and female voices in the understructure of the songs, there is less of a focus on crisp articulation than on drawn-out, throbbing curtains of extended emotion, lyrics melding into a landscape. Her sound is sorrowful, employing a distinctive head voice for her slower numbers, rough with feeling.

Lykke Li backing band in Berlin's Astra Kulturhaus. Copyright: Caitlin Hardee, Nomad NewsAs the show progresses, the band is building a scenery of sound, with resonant guitars, shimmering percussion and her vocals, rising now, more strong and strident than on the downtempo ballads, because this is “I Follow Rivers,” her biggest single to date, and the hall is waking from its appreciative trance, hands thrown upward, the atmosphere moving towards that of a rock show, an ecstatic crescendo of shouts from the fans when their Swedish pop goddess declares her love for this crowd.

And now: she is enveloped in a mist of insubstantial flame, a dark shamanic silhouette, pair of drumsticks in hand, joining her drummer in railing away at the kit. Her chest voice is showcased in the later songs, utilizing her full power. The bass dives into the abyss, bone-deep siren call. The percussive height of the show arrives with the track “Get Some,” delivering infectious rhythm and hypnotic female harmonies.

Returning to the stage for an encore, she calls: “Does anyone speak Swedish in here?” Enthusiastic cheers rise here and there. “I’ll teach you some Swedish!” The band transitions into a slowly swaying song in her native tongue, keys producing a melody like a small girl wandering in a moonlit garden. The guitar rises, piercing, evocative, dark and demanding. A strain of harmony, haunting, intertwining. Her voice wavers exotically, sounding, for a second, like an Arabic chanteuse, hovers, then settles in a soft, drawn-out breath back to earth.

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