Swedish sister-duo Klara and Johanna Söderberg, along with their band First Aid Kit, stopped off at MTELUS on Feb. 6 for the touring of their new album Ruins.
The venue was packed with excited folk young and old—many of whom had been waiting for the band’s next visit to Montreal since the group’s first trip to the city in 2014. Their performance made up for their long absence with an almost two hour set, enchanting the audience with poetic lyrics and unique vocal harmonies. Surprisingly enough, the sisters did not grow up listening to country music, and were first exposed when they began exploring Townes Van Zandt’s heroically tragic songs, Emmylou Harris’ powerful solo voice, and Johnny Cash’s pairing of simple chord arrangements with his deep voice. First Aid Kit combines all of these elements through simple chords arranged with a range of rich percussion sounds to complement their voices.
The opener, Van William, is a Californian alternative indie vocalist and guitarist, and close friend of Klara and Johanna. Although they are similar in terms of their musics’ indie-folk genre, the Söderbergs’ vocals completely contrasted Van William’s in power and reach. William’s voice sounded wispy and he was overpowered by his band, whereas First Aid Kit had a steady, clear, and powerful sound. For the encore, both acts returned to the stage to perform a collaborative rendition of Van William’s “Revolution”.
First Aid Kit kicked off their set with several songs from Ruins, and later included some old favourites from 2012’s The Lion’s Roar—their first album to gain serious recognition. Perhaps it was Klara’s funky Swedish dress, or Johanna’s angelic hair flipping that kept all eyes on them as they moved and swept across the stage. Their quirky presence topped off their incredible vocal ranges and unusual harmonies that effortlessly weaved in and around their sound. Klara is the main power behind the vocals, but the full sound comes when accompanied by Johanna’s elastic voice, Scott Simpson on drums, Melvin Duffy on pedal steel guitar, and Steve Moore on keyboard and trombone.
In between some of the more upbeat melodies, the sisters performed an angry song entitled “You are the Problem Here.” It specifically addressed the perpetrators of rape with powerful lyrics like “I hope you fucking suffer.” In their introduction to the song, they spoke directly for the need to shine the spotlight on the rapists and away from survivors. They released this song on International Women’s Day in 2017, after hearing of another rape case where the perpetrator’s sentence did not fit the crime committed. They purposefully disrupted the flow of the set’s digestible melodies to share this important message. It marked a turning point in the concert, as though they were properly warmed up and ready to deliver an unforgettable performance.
The band also played a tribute to Leonard Cohen, who has been a big influence on them. When he died in 2016, the Söderbergs organized a memorial concert for Cohen in Sweden. They performed Cohen’s song “If It Be Your Will” in the encore, but halfway through the song, Klara forgot the lyrics and soon picked it up during the chorus. The encore was fun and playful and they completely played off Klara’s forgetfulness making the entire experience an intimate one.
Seeing First Aid Kit puts into perspective how rare it is to find a group that sounds better live than on their recordings. The Söderbergs tracks do not do their powerful voices and dynamic bond justice. The last songs were the most emotional, as the genuine love the sisters’ have for singing together left tears in people’s eyes.