Wednesday, October 22, 2008

CMJ Night One: Lykke Li

Last night, bitter wind blew across the Atlantic and into New York City. I squinted against the gusts that blew up the avenues and pulled my hood tight, longing for more of a landlocked night. I’m no meteorologist, but I can only assume the winds came from more arctic climates. Possibly Sweden.

Lykke Li comes from Sweden, too. At the time, the connection seemed very clever to my chilled self.

CMJ (College Music Journal, not country music jam) is New York’s equivalent of SXSW, with the same sheer quantity of music that will makes any sort of scheduling moot. Lykke Li, whose music is a mixture of soul, indie and electro, was one of the major opening showcases for the festival.

After adding her debut album Youth Novels to my growing “Best of 2008” list, there was no way that I was going to miss out. Since this was my first time at CMJ, I showed up at the Lower East Side’s Bowery Ballroom when doors opened… at 7 o’ clock. I was the only one in line, looking like a total noob (even the door guys were busting my balls for coming out so early). After paying $6 for a drink, I wasn’t ready to plunder my moth-filled wallet on expensive drinks until Li went on – a scheduled 11 PM. So I left.

Lower East Side has lots of cheap bars.

I came back at 11, blurry with anticipation. Opening band Friendly Fires was just finishing up a rousing set, which made me a little sad to have missed it. Around midnight, Lykke Li took the stage.

Rocking her early-70s-chic that was both disco yet kind of Manson-familyish, Li was a bonafide presence in the vein of M.I.A. She upped the volume and changed the style of nearly every song from her album; considering her album is somewhat minimalist, these changes were especially rousing.

“I’m a debut artist, so I only have like, 10 songs,” she apologized before her band jumped in to a head-scratching cover of Vampire Weekend’s “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” I don’t know if the audience was tired or confused by the band’s tendency to prolong songs after the applause, but it was very quiet/dismaying for a NY crowd. You can’t but feel embarrassed when the singer whispers: “Why are you so quiet?”

Lykke Li closed with Youth Novels’ best track “Breaking it Up” (see video for proof), and only then did the audience go nuts. It was probably the bullhorn. Since she played all the songs on her album, I didn’t expect an encore, but it came.

“You guys are from New York, so you’ll like this one. Sing along,” she said as the bass line from Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side” began.

Instead, she busted out a pitch-perfect rendition of A Tribe Called Quest’s “Kick It.”

“Can I kick it?!” She yelled, and we responded “YES YOU CAN!” And she did.

Breaking it up – alternative live video. Filmed by: Christian Haag from Lykke Li on Vimeo.
(Ryan Bradford aka Brian Bradford)

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