You would think that with the harmonies about heartbreak and healing, First Aid Kit intentionally named their duo off of what a first aid kit traditionally is used for (the healing part) – but the name was actually a result of a random flip through a dictionary. However, I would say that it’s far more entertaining to pretend that sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg wanted to create music under this stage name because their music can be (and should be) used for a coping mechanism when it comes to the aftermath of a broken relationship.
Ruins – the band’s fourth album, released on January 19 – is about endings. About picking up the pieces after a metaphorical earthquake wreaks havoc on a relationship that results in devastation. Which brings to believe that the album is essentially full of sad songs about heartbreak – a statement that is – for the most part – truthful, despite something about the way these sibling superstars sing just gives you a little bit of hope to dust yourself off and keep going (see a line from their biggest hit to date, “Silver Lining” – Something good comes with the bad / A song’s never just sad / There’s hope, there’s a silver lining).
First Aid Kit last performed in Chicago at Lollapalooza in 2015 – ultimately becoming one of my favorite performances of the weekend. Before that, they played Park West in June 2014, which means it was just about 3.5 years since they had performed their own headlining show in the country’s third biggest city. The venue – The Riviera Theater – seemed to be the most perfect fit for the Söderberg sisters’ sweet melodies and captivating harmonies. Not too big to drown the natural intimacy that the music deserves, not too small to feel as though we were missing that special spark that big spectacle shows at neighboring venues like the Aragon Ballroom or even Allstate Arena allow.
If you aren’t familiar with First Aid Kit’s sound, they rely heavily on the folk genre, but have bits of indie pop, Americana and country music embedded in their style of music. For one who does not enjoy 95% of country music, I would have to say that First Aid Kit is the outlier. I have heard some of my favorite lyrics from these women, and combining the storytelling style of lyricism that is evident at country music’s core rings true to the way that First Aid Kit shares their experiences with the listener.
What makes their music stand out in the folk genre – one that is most often associated with old time acts such as Joni Mitchell or James Taylor is their ability to contemporize the genre without eliminating the true elements of what makes folk music what it is.
The show began with an opening performance of the first track off of Ruins – “Rebel Heart.” The sisters casually and confidently took their places onstage – one on the left – one on the right (nobody took a “center” spot). The second song began quickly after the first ended – the first single off of Ruins – titled “It’s A Shame.”
The sisters wasted no time getting into the rhythm of the show, weaving in and out through tracks off of the new album (after all, it was the Ruins tour). But fear not, they made sure to give the crowd a handful of effortlessly sung performances of fan favorites like “Stay Gold” and “The Lion’s Roar.” There was little time to chit chat in between songs, as it was a 90-minute set that spanned 18 songs.
Little was said from the sisters in between songs, quite the opposite of my previous concert experience with Yoke Lore (read about it here), which was just fine with me. I have been following First Aid Kit since 2012, when I once got to download their single “Emmylou” for free on iTunes – you know – back when iTunes used to do that (maybe they still do that now?) Regardless, a 40-minute performance at a music festival was not enough for me, and I was happy seeing a performance that ended up being over twice as long as what I got a taste of in 2015.
If you have read my previous take on performances, you know that I absolutely am a sucker for beautiful in tune, powerful vocal abilities, like another sister group, Joseph, or my experience seeing Fleet Foxes perform for the first time ever in 2017 on my 23rd birthday. Vocal chops are a big reason as to why I am continuously drawn to folk music because of the challenging harmonies and big voices that are at home in the genre.
Whatever the tempo of the track was or the subject matter happy or sad, angry or hopeful, one thing that was consistent in the performance was Klara and Johanna’s vocal abilities. They delved into topics of rape culture (they released a song titled “You Are The Problem Here” on International Women’s Day in 2017), being obsessive in a relationship (their out of character head banging cover of Heart’s “Crazy on You”) and of course, the performance of one of their saddest songs to date (in my opinion): “Fireworks.”
Ruins may be a sad album (it is a sad album), but it’s First Aid Kit’s most mature release yet, putting away the idea that maybe, some things inevitably get lost, you lose touch with someone you love, you have to deal with shitty people and shitty circumstances. But that doesn’t change their ability to emulate so many universal emotions and create inspiration and conversation around the human experience.
While nearly perfect harmonies can potentially result in a lifeless performance, this is truly not the case for First Aid Kit. I could feel what they felt in during each performance of every song: the drive for always looking for something bigger in your day-to-day life while simultaneously trying to control your emotions, the themes of love and losing it and trying to balance hopefulness with the mindset that the present is always fleeting.
Their balance was evident in their set list choices, “King Of The World” represents the idea that life is really, really confusing, but knowing yourself and being okay with it may be the hardest battle of all – “Silver Lining” sings about just that – finding the positives in everything. “Master Pretender” is the ultimate song about “faking it ’til you make it” and I think a sold out show in Chicago shows that these sisters have in fact made it.
While this may not in fact be in the true style of a show review, I found it as something bigger for myself to share with those who are interested in music or read my blog – because First Aid Kit is probably one of my favorite acts right now and have been creating consistently strong music for a long, long time. I had a great time seeing them perform and hope to see even bigger things happen for them in the future.
You can read my previous show reviews here.
What’s next on my concert calendar:
February 10 – Rostam
March 1 – Gabrielle Aplin
March 9 – Declan Mckenna
March 27 – Lorde
March 30 – Wolf Alice
March 31 – Billie EIlish
^ My March is getting a little out of hand.