Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg might only still be in their 20s, but together as First Aid Kit they’re already on to their fourth album and, as the first of two nights at the Roundhouse was to prove, they are also now very confident and accomplished performers. Each new album has seen a refinement and incremental improvement rather than any radical redirections, and this may help explain how comfortable they now are on stage. They know who they are, and their own strengths.
During the early stages of tonight’s show they admire the view of the Roundhouse from the stage, commenting how this was their third appearance at the venue but the first time they’ve headlined (previous shows were supporting Rickie Lee Jones and Ryan Adams). This pair of artists help contextualise their position musically – they’ve got a foot in both the worlds of country and alt-country and both were represented tonight.
They kick off with Rebel Heart and It’s A Shame from latest album Ruins, which immediately act as a warming, welcoming presence in marked contrast to the sub-zero temperatures outside. They fill the venue well, and are both good indicators of how their creators keep getting bigger and better. The sisters are backed by a three-man band who provide them with a sold musical basis on to which they add their special, endearing touches. Their complimenting outfits, use of a partially raised stage, colourful backdrops and the way in which they turn to face and sing to each other all help give a stronger sense of showmanship to tonight’s gig.
What quickly becomes apparent is how their music, like that of contemporaries The Staves, projects the simple joy of songs and musical expression. King Of The World is played next, another polished and clean offering from deeper into their past. Stay Gold meanwhile still soars, full of longing and desire. Appropriately, the capacity crowd swoon in unison.
The new songs fare well live; Postcard is pure, tear-stained country and To Live A Life is dedicated to their mum, who is pointed out in the crowd. Fireworks sees the pace further drop but sways mellifluously. They all show their voices to still be as clear as the freshwater streams of their native country. Later, the expansive Nothing Has To Be True closes the main set in majestic style, truly music of depth to get lost in. They manage to also fit in a storming cover of Crazy On You by ’70s rockers Heart.
The older songs played tonight are maybe a little more lustrous and glossy, bathed in rich golden hues. The Lion’s Roar, with its almost clandestine melody, is still one of their finest moments, but their performance of You Are The Problem Here is undoubtedly tonight’s highlight; ragged, heavy, angry and strobe-strewn – and is followed by an impassioned speech by Klara calling out unwanted male aggression and sexism. It’s a sound they’d do well to explore further.
Emmylou is pretty much the exact opposite, breezy and joyful (and also confirms the quiet power of a well-executed, tender audience singalong). Later in the encore, the crowd participation on The Hem Of Her Dress maybe doesn’t have the guile but makes up for it in terms of pure, end-of-gig celebration. Two fan favourites, Master Pretender and My Silver Lining, close the show, both lucid and bright, and are examples of why First Aid Kit will almost certainly continue to play sold-out shows to devoted crowds in London for years to come.