Le Poisson Rouge is one of many intimate music venues in New York City, but one of very few that offers the option of performing in the round. Fast-rising Swedish singer Lykke Li opted for such a setup last night for her solo U.S. show of 2010, and the format is so suited to her music and her charisma that she'd do well to take it on the road. Hey, it worked for Def Leppard.
The effect is something like a concert staged inside the world's most fashionable drum circle. (An easy contest to win, presumably.) Ringed by her black-clad five-piece band, pounding away at "Youth Knows No Pain," one of the wildly propulsive tracks from her upcoming sophomore album Wounded Rhymes, Li commanded center stage -- literally -- armed with drumsticks and a trap kit of her own, rotating periodically to address the entire room.
Lykke Li's music, particularly in new songs like "Silent My Song" and "Sadness Is a Blessing," mixes wall-of-sound girl-group traditionalism with spooky-tribal Scandinavian exoticism, old-guard with avant-garde; think Ronnie Spectre. And while "Dance Dance Dance" and "I'm Good, I'm Gone" from 2008's Youth Novels were predictably well-received by the crowd, which counted David Byrne among its ranks, the debuted Wounded numbers "I Follow Rivers" and "Rich Kid Blues" felt instantly lived-in and exhilarating, percussive and aggressive, but never overwhelming.
The excitement palpably building around Li is due in large part to the the already notorious new single "Get Some" -- the merch table even hawked t-shirts featuring its scrawled lyrics. The track's martial drums and a huskily mewed refrain of "I'm a prostitute/You gonna get some" make for a reliably successful combination, as well as a reliable teaser for the album's somewhat harder edge. That song closed the set and was followed by a fake encore -- there's no backstage to duck into when you're in the middle of a crowded room.
The evening's grace note was Wounded's ethereal waltz "Unrequited Love," which sounds more like Neko Case than a 24-year-old from Stockholm has any right to, and also ended the evening on a patently untrue sentiment. Her love was indeed far from unrequited, and the rooms full of people showering her with affection are about to get much, much larger. All the more reason to plop the stage in the middle.
Youth Knows No Pain
I'm Good, I'm Gone
Love Out of Lust
Breaking it Up / Silent Shout