First Aid Kit have a knack for making the kind of sad music that does everything but leave you feeling sad — and they’ve been doing it for ten years. The Swedish sister duo of Johanna and Klara Söderberg took the stage at Union Transfer Saturday night for the first time since 2014, and for the first time as a five-piece band. As the sisters put it, it had been “way too long,” and the sold-out crowd was eager to see what this new era of First Aid Kit would bring.
The band kept a low profile for the last few years, returning last month with Ruins, their fourth LP and first release since 2014’s Stay Gold. Not long after First Aid Kit’s XPN Fest appearance in 2015, the band began a lengthy break from their busy touring schedule, their growing success having become overwhelming. The sisters took their time with Ruins, and it shows. But while the record brings an underlying sense of hardened resignation as the duo grapples with the real-life strain of heartbreak and tension, First Aid Kit’s live performance is anything but despondent.
After a spirited opening set from friend and collaborator Van William — who also just released an album, called Countries — First Aid Kit entered the stage to the almost ominous opening chords of “Rebel Heart,” the strikingly haunting first track on Ruins. This kicked off what would turn into a 90-minute set — it was almost like the Söderbergs were making up for lost time, powering through a selection of old and new songs that celebrated their past and present, hardly pausing to take a breath.
Lead single “It’s a Shame,” one of Ruins‘ strongest tracks, came early in the set, its smooth catchiness accompanied by dramatic lighting and kaleidoscopic projected visuals that would linger for the rest of the show, matching the themes of each song with a bright intensity. Even with a more heightened theatricality than ever before, First Aid Kit’s vocals remain the most captivating part of their performance. The sisters’ lilting harmonies cut through with bell-like clarity on Ruins‘ other two singles — the sweet and twangy “Postcard” and the softer, more lush “Fireworks” — which we first heard during the band’s Free at Noon performance last October.
First Aid Kit’s timeless sound makes it easy for some older, deep cuts to feel right at home in a set that heavily featured new material. We’ve been lucky to witness the band’s evolution over the last several years, which has pushed them steadily forward while never taking them too far from their roots. “Wolf” remains a concert staple despite never appearing on an album, and no First Aid Kit performance is complete without “Emmylou,” the breakout track from 2012’s The Lion’s Roar with its sweet-as-ever audience sing-along.
Always eager for the chance to cover a band that has inspired them, First Aid Kit included a rendition of “Crazy on You” by Heart, the 70’s sister band that reminds the Söderbergs of themselves. Also in the set was “You are the Problem Here,” the impassioned, punk-tinged protest song First Aid Kit released last year as an enraged response to sexual assault cases in the news. After wrapping up their set with Ruins closer “Nothing Has to Be True,” First Aid Kit returned for a four-song encore which saw Van William reappear onstage to play his song “Revolution” with Klara and Johanna on harmonies and closed out with two of Stay Gold‘s most stunningly shimmering tracks.
Four years ago, First Aid Kit pleaded for sunny days and silver linings, their songs steeped in restless melancholy but tinged with optimism and faith in the world. The years in between records seem to have brought more trials than the sisters expected, but if Saturday’s performance is any indication, they’ve emerged stronger than ever. “Now I feel so far away from the person I once was,” the Söderbergs sing with nostalgia on the soft duet “Nothing Has to Be True.” It’s one of the shining moments of Ruins, and was one of the few quieter, reflective moments of their set, capturing the cascading emotions of growth and hardship with a sense of assurance that First Aid Kit have returned to a place where they feel completely at home.
It’s a Shame
King of the World
The Lion’s Roar
You are the Problem Here
To Live a Life
Crazy on You (Heart cover)
Nothing Has to Be True
Hem of Her Dress
My Silver Lining
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