The pairing up of bands for a tour can be a daunting proposition. On hand, the business one to be exact, you’ve got to consider your demographic spread. That’s a terrible term to be used when talking about music, but it’s a simple economic fact. If you don’t put butts in seats (or feet on floors if you’re at The Black Cat) then the chances that you’ll be off on tour again, especially if you’re the opener, greatly diminish with each stop along the way. One way, the easy way to sell out a venue is to put two artists on the bill who, in theory, could swap their musical genomes at will without much muss or fuss - and on the surface that’s what Friday nights show at The Black Cat offered. But you didn’t have to dig very deep to discover that any attempt at homogeneous commercial bliss is of little to no consequence when dealing with two bands this talented.
First up was Peggy Sue. Often times this band has been billed as an electrified First Aid Kit (likely their spot on the bill) but to buy into that would really be selling the trio from Brighton, England short. Sure both bands are fronted by two vocal powerhouses whose mastery of harmony is something that any musician worth their salt should take notice of. And yes, both bands average age tends to lean somewhat on the younger side, but whereas the ladies of First Aid Kit tend to stick to the sadder, more country side of things, Peggy Sue head straight for the darker side of life and bring their friends Atonal and Feedback with them.
Delivering a slow burn of a set that was made up mostly of material from their last two albums ( highlights were an emotional punishing deliverance of “Ruthie” off of 2011’s Acrobat, and a positively snarling rendition of “Watchmen” from 2010’s Fossils And Other Phantoms) Peggy Sue managed to bring everyone down, but in the very best of ways. No matter how dark Rosa Rex and Katy Klaw’s music may get - and it definitely plumbs the depths of the soul at times - there, there’s always their golden harmonies floating above the swirling blackness below, leaving room for hope in an, as painted by Peggy Sue, relatively hopeless, or at the very least gut wrenching, world. As if to acknowledge that fact, the duo took a brief break from the gloom to deliver up a high spirited version of Martha and the Vandellas “Heat Wave” that suggested all was not lost in Peggy Sue land, and that sometimes the sun might even come out to shine.
First Aid Kit @ The Black Cat
But if the sun only shines occasionally on Peggy Sue, it’s only because it’s out 24/7 in the land of First Aid Kit. Decked out in sparkling gold, sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg walked out to begin their set and instantly illuminating the darkened Black Cat stage. The duo has built quite a following since wowing the world with their cover of Fleet Foxes “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” on YouTube, but there is much more to this group then a well chosen cover song. Pulling material mostly from their latest (and excellent) effort, 2012’s The Lions Roar, the sisters demonstrated that despite their youth (one was marked with the dreaded underage “X” on her hand) they were both in possession of remarkable talent and that was a sell out crowd that was well, well deserved. Highlights of the evening were Roar’s first single “Emmylou” - a sort of twanged up tribute to country stars of years gone by - an unexpected addition of “Tangerine” into the set and a heart stopping performance of the song “Ghost Town” which was delivered from the edge of the stage to a COMPLETELY (and remarkably) silent house.
Oh, and then there was that cover of Patti Smith’s “Dancing Barefoot." Yes it’s a cover (and a well chosen one!) but I’d say if you can pull it off, why the hell not. It’s easy (or it should be at least) for a good musician to take a song written by someone else and simply deliver it back to an audience. A great musician gets inside the DNA of a song and makes it their own, which is exactly what First Aid Kit accomplished with the Patti Smith classic.
More to the point, a song like “Emmylou” could have ended up trite and overly precious in lesser musicians hands, but the sisters from Sweden imbue the track with so much heart and reverence to the performances of who they are singing about (Johnny, June, Gram and Emmylou) that it’s hard not to fall in love with not just that track, but any song First Aid Kit wants to perform for you.
Great voices are a dime a dozen, but great SINGERS...great SONGWRITERS... those are a little harder to find, and that’s exactly what makes First Aid Kit so special. These two “youngsters” are already at the top of their game, and Friday night’s performance cemented their status as a band that’s going to be thrilling audiences for years to come. It’s going to be a fun ride seeing where these talented ladies are headed next, but wherever that may be, we’re definitely going to follow.