First Aid Kit - Union Chapel, London
First Aid Kit are sort of like a folk ABBA minus Benny and Bjorn - admittedly, it’s lazy to open a review of a Swedish band by comparing them to ABBA, but if they will come on stage dressed in primary coloured kaftans, they are just asking for it. Now, lets remind ourselves that it was the men in ABBA who wrote the incredible disco pop tunes, while the girls were in charge of the incredibly complex harmonies. Sisters Johanna and Klara Soderberg clasp that baton, clamber into those incredible kaftans and make really nice folk music.
After a couple of tracks though, you begin to wonder if that’s enough. In the 21st Century, don’t we ask a little more of our performers than that they make ‘nice’ music? Joanna Newsom isn’t just a nice harpist, she’s a harpist with a really terrifying sub-human nuance to her voice. Slow Club don’t just make nice folky pop songs, they make jangley good times music with just enough macabre to force their audience to sit up straight. First Aid Kit appear to be nice. We were bathing in their luscious vocals, but not at all challenged.
The crowd were nice too. They went wild, albeit wild in a very nice reserved middle class way, for “Tangerines” which is basically just a nicer than average First Aid Kit song. In terms of the set so far, it stood out, but we were still not much more than luke warm. Then that the girls brought out the big guns.
Let me introduce Union Chapel. It is a truth universally acknowledged that Union Chapel is the best venue in London. The place is sublime. Every seat is the best seat in the house and every gig feels like a proper event. Oh and if you weren’t yet sold, Bjork once did an unamplified gig there - probably barefoot (Hear that? That’s the sound of a thousand indie orgasms). Churches are reliably perfect venues because they were built long before microphones and PA systems meaning that the acoustics have to be great.
Technically, there was no reason for First Aid Kit to use the PA, which is why when they opted to unplug for a rendition of their song “Ghost Town” (not a Specials cover) the night really took off. Free from the processing of a sound desk, the girls really showed off what they were capable of. The venue’s intimacy was amplified and every element of the music had room to breathe. They were more exposed in this environment and they pulled it off perfectly. The songs suddenly felt more accomplished as you felt them strain for the biggest notes and battle for the lead. First Aid Kit were no longer just nice, they were incredibly human.
Despite returning to the amps, the gig maintained the same intensity. By this point we were sold and everything just came together. They even managed to pull off a cover of one of 2008’s most mundane bands, Fleet Foxes (if you disagree, please turn off Radio 2 and move on). It was initially done as a subversive marketing coup. They filmed themselves performing “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” in a forest and put it on YouTube immediately before Fleet Foxes hit the zeitgeist, thus catching the hordes of fans searching for their mid afternoon beard-fest. Genius.
If anyone in the room still had apprehensions about First Aid Kit, the inter-song banter was sure to win them over. The sisters come across like characters from a kooky indie movie. “Are you alright? Is there anything I can do?” asked Klara, as if we’d just popped in for a cup of tea. “Just keep on singing,” yelled a heckler, while the rest of the audience pondered whether or not it was a rhetorical question. Graciously, our host responded, “That’s cool. I didn’t have anything else planned”.
All too soon, despite two encores, the gig came to a close. First Aid Kit had well and truly proven themselves to be a charming talented duo, but there was still a lingering doubt that they might be too anachronistic. They sit perfectly next to Jefferson Airplane or Kate and Anna McGarrigle, but it’s hard to locate their place on the music scene in this decade.