Not About Wine: Lykke Li at the Greek Theatre

Despite stepping right off the plane after a 7AM (EDT) flight from Boston to LAX and going straight to work, I still mustered up the strength and non-meth fueled energy to go see Swedish indie-pop queen Lykke Li play last night at the Greek Theatre.

I’d never been to the LA Greek before, though it shares many similarities to the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, particularly its being nestled inconveniently in the hills around an affluent community, its shitty parking and the rampant Platonic sodomy that takes place in the surrounding foliage (presumably). The LA Greek is blissfully free of lawn seating and the reserved seats are conventional amphitheatre seating instead of rough-hewn concrete benches.

Ouch.

I’ve been a fan of Lykke Li since stumbling upon songs from her first album, Youth Novels, on an MGMT Pandora channel in 2008. Her debut album is quite good with several excellent tracks, although the album itself is lacking in focus. Her second LP, Wounded Rhymes, released earlier this year, was an excellent follow-up with a half-dozen single-worthy indie-pop tracks ranging from the blisteringly energetic (“Get Some”), moodily melancholic (“Sadness is a Blessing,” “Jerome”) to awesomely spooky (“I Follow Rivers,” “Youth Knows No Pain”). The album also has a strong, consistent musical tone and lyrical theme throughout, indicative of the success of her ongoing collaboration with Bjorn Yttling (of Peter Bjorn & John) who has produced and co-written both of her albums.

Lykke Li’s performance at the Greek was welcome for its simplicity, with Li energetically and animatedly dominating the stage without backup dancers, fireworks or wardrobe changes. And in an era where pop starlets are all trying to out-underdress and out-fembot-dancer-choreograph each other, Li’s penchant for black tunics, free form noodle dancing, and no frills backup band of Nordic hipsters (female backup singer, keyboardist/organist, bassist/guitarist, and two percussionists), are refreshing.

Performing a set made up mostly of tracks off Wounded Rhymes and the singles from Youth Novels, she owned the Greek without an elaborate stage show or sex-kitten gimmickry in a way no female solo artist has since the late 1990s, when performers like Gwen Stefani and Fiona Apple combined unconventional sex appeal with legitimate talent and energy.

Some of the moments during the ballads were a bit maudlin for a stone-hearted gentleman like myself, but they seemed to strike a chord with much of the audience for whom Li’s lyric “sadness is my boyfriend” no doubt resonates. The manic energy on the more upbeat songs more than made up for any detours into down tempo sentimentality.

I’d delve into a deeper polysyllabic adjective-laden, psychoanlytic beat by beat review of the concert, peppered with oblique references to Television and Jay Reatard, but that’s Pitchfork’s bailiwick. I’ll leave them to it.

Lykke Li’s back in Los Angeles and Oakland in November at their respective Fox Theatres. If you’re a fan of performance-driven indie pop, I highly recommend seeing her live.

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About David D.

I'm a wine professional. Like a real one who makes most of his living in wine and have for most of my adult life. I also write, but you can see that.
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