First Aid Kit

Swedish sister act show themselves to be shining lights of the nu-folk scene at Mandela Hall

At Queen’s University’s Mandela Hall on a Wednesday, my expectations are low.

I admit that I haven't heard much about First Aid Kit, the sibling duo from Sweden, who have quietly released three successful albums over the past four years. Sometimes, when it comes to live music, that's a good thing.

As a warm-up on their UK tour, First Aid Kit have recruited the self-effacing Manchester singer-songwriter, Jo Rose. Recovered from a fainting session in Glasgow the night before, he is safely seated, well hydrated and lit by a purple glow.

We try our best to be attentive and are rewarded with powerfully poetic songs from his new album, Spurs. Definitely one to watch, with a little more faith in himself, Rose should go far.

Bursting onto the stage without introduction, the Söderberg sisters are joined by a suited drummer and an unassuming zither player, and hit us with the title track from their newly released album, Stay Gold.

Resplendent in gold lamé disco pants and a glittering military jacket, Johanna Söderberg pounds the keys with blonde hair swinging down to her waist: she is the drama. Stage right, doe-eyed and brave behind a heavy fringe, her sister Klara is the substance behind this double act – both incredibly beautiful, they are the thing that girl crushes are made of.

Sisterly unison has been the sound of the last few years, with Haim and The Staves taking solid tunes and pitch perfect harmonies to another level. First Aid Kit might have found themselves lost the slipstream, but their up-cycling of 1950s country music into nu-folk cool is a beautiful thing to witness live.

Hailing from Stockholm, the Söderbergs have been making music since primary school in their home studio but haven’t lost their enthusiasm over the years, kicking out three critically acclaimed albums and an EP since 2008. On covering Fleet Foxes hit, 'Tiger Mountain Pleasant Song' on YouTube, their sound went viral.

With the release of their fourth record, First Aid Kit have moved into more confident and honest territory – Stay Gold contains their first piece of explicit content. Lamenting the ephemerality of the nature of life, they draw their influences from the inner landscape of poet Robert Frost and the sweeping rhythms of June Carter.

This new work, as always, is anathema to ABBA, their Swedish musical forebears, and more aligned with the toe-tapping rural ballads of the Great American Songbook. It articulates the weariness of touring with all the thumping, harmonious melancholy of Johnny Cash at his most aggressive.

In combining their distinctive Scandinavian brightness and energy with the sounds of dustbowl America, Johanna and Klara Söderberg show us what modern female artists are made of.

I wasn't expecting a revelation on a Wednesday night in Belfast, but that is exactly what I get. Throughout, First Aid Kit are heart-stoppingly, feet-stompingly brilliant.

Visit the Mandela Hall website for information on forthcoming events.

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