Standing in line outside Hollywood’s Fonda Theatre, I — smartass that I am — fire off a quick tweet about First Aid Kit having one of the worst names to saddle a great band in quite some time. Given that the duo — comprised of sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg — hails from the Stokholkm suburb of Enskede, I might ordinarily attribute the unfortunate moniker to the fact that English is not their first language. Were it not for their music, that is. The Söderbergs sing country-folk with more Americana twang than virtually any of their stateside contemporaries. Those who obsess over the “authenticity” of the musicians they listen to will have a fit, but such is their nature.
Opening for FAK — yeah, let’s go with that — tonight is Dylan LeBlanc, a young Louisiana songwriter who strikes a dramatic figure, his lanky frame draped in a long black cloak and topped with shoulder-length hair. His sound is comprised of country essentials, acoustic guitar backed by a pedal steel player named Melvin. “Part One: The End,” the single from LeBlanc’s new record, Cast the Same Old Shadow, opens with sparse strums and a Thom Yorke-esque wail before settling into a groove reminiscent of both Radiohead and Crowded House. Melvin leaves and Klara Söderberg joins LeBlanc on “If The Creek Don’t Rise” from LeBlanc’s debut, Paupers Field, and their vocal harmonies ring out clearly over LeBlanc’s fingerpicked chords. Melvin returns with another guitarist to blow through “Brother” and a cover of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together” to close the set.
When the Söderbergs take the stage, gossamer gowns billowing around them, they have the mostly female audience in the palms of their hands from the first. They draw a few extra shrieks by devoting “Our Own Pretty Ways” to “free speech and Pussy Riot.” On “Ghost Town,” meanwhile, the sisters request quiet from the audience as they step away from their mics to perform the song unaided by electronic amplification and backed only by Klara’s acoustic guitar. Their rendition of “To a Poet” boasts impeccable harmonies and a scorching pedal steel solo courtesy of Mike Mogis — who also produced FAK’s breakthrough 2012 record, The Lion’s Roar — and “Wolf” is truly stirring, pounding drums backing the song’s primal “hey-ya hey-ya” refrain.
“Emmylou” sees the return of Mogis’ pedal steel and offers the band’s audience the opportunity to prove that many of them have quite lovely singing voices of their own. The band closes out the main portion of their set with the title track off The Lion’s Roar, ending big and leaving the audience stomping and screaming for an encore. FAK oblige almost immediately, returning to cover Simon & Garfunkel’s “America” before being rejoined by the rest of their band for “King of the World,” Dylan LeBlanc stepping in to sing Conor Oberst’s lines from the studio version. An appropriately dust-raising end to an evening of Americana revivalism.
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