Front Page Reviews & AIR
Lykke Li at the House of Blues, Boston, May 20th 2011
The stage was shrouded in darkly colored red and blue lights, and seemed to be wrapped in the dark fabric that cascaded down in strips from ceiling to floor--it was beautiful and eerie. The fabric twisted itself around various instruments on stage and around Li herself. She would appear from the shadows and just as quickly all but disappear, rolling herself up into the fabric before emerging again and owning the stage. At times she would swing seductively around the fabric like a pole. Sometimes she stood deep inside the stage, appearing far away in shadowy light; sometimes she stepped to the very front of the stage, appealing to the audience with her quirky hand movements and jerky but still graceful dancing.
The stage had a number of different platforms set up for instruments: two for drums, one for a keyboard, two for guitars. The platforms allowed Li to move from instrument-to-instrument interacting with each musician, and possessing the entire space, in a variety of ways. Really, it’s as hard to classify her stage persona as it is to categorize her music. At times she’s sullen and shuns interaction with the audience, at other times she’s highly interactive and energetic, if frenzied, to the point of infection, or alienation. But her mercuriality pairs with the diversity of her music, which draws on European electronica, Scandinavian dance music, California beach rock, Folk, Motown, Doo-Wop, Blues, and Indie.
From song-to-song Li’s persona changed dramatically. When she sang “Rich Kid Blues”, off Wounded Rhymes (2011), she was a frenzy of performative energy that seemed to ignore what was going on around her. At one point she used a drumstick to alternatively beat time, conduct the band, and prance around the stage like a sorcerer. This last image was only enhanced by the fact that she wore what looked like a cross between a graduation gown, and a wizard robe. Then again, this, I think, was keeping with her sort of odd-ball behavior. She seems both to want to include the audience—to appeal to them on an affective level—but also to get lost in her musical world, which involves the artistic remove evident in her clothing and certain aspects of the set design choices. This pull in opposite directions animated the show from start to finish.
Before the HOB’s show, WFNX advertised Li’s “secret show” at Boston’s Museum of Fine Art. I later found out that Li played in the Dutch and Flemish gallery to an intimate audience of between 35 and 50 fans. I wonder now, after the HOB’s show, what it would be like to be in such close quarters with her. Would some qualities of her persona—her edgy, quirky, and sometimes frantic behavior—be toned down or heightened when confronted with such a small audience? Would a venue like the MFA restrict her alternately gliding and stalking movements or transform them into something completely other? Simply put, would it be scary to be in a small room with Lykke Li? This, I think, is the force of her art. She’s changing from moment-to-moment and song-to-song. Her mutability keeps us on edge.