First Aid Kit is a duo from Sweden that showed us last Monday night there is no reason to stay at home even on the worst of weekdays. These gifted girls bandaged the audience with emotion, passion, and some pop rock balanced by some Neil Young guitar playing and Bob Wills style pedal steel guitar. Sometimes, discovering a new band is a rebirthing experience – leaving a womb-safe environment, stepping out into a cold world where someone will soon smack you on the ass – not pleasant but you’re better for it. So it is with First Aid Kit and the bandages they have for your soul. Klara and Johanna Söderberg, how do your sad songs calm my soul, how do the make me feel so happy? I’ll never know.
After people began noticing the band in 2008, the collaborations with Jack White, Jenny Lewis and Conor Oberst along with shows with Lykke Li and Rodriguez didn’t take long to arrive and solidify them as bonafide country souls.
It is a fascinating trip through their cover choices and knocking out knowledgeable and appreciative audiences. In 2012 at Polar Music Prize they sang “America” for Paul Simon. Paul gave them a standing ovation at end of his song. In 2011 at Polar they sang “Dancing Barefoot” for Patti Smith. Patti reportedly cried when she saw them perform her song live.
Everyone I quizzed in the young crowd had been listening to the Stockholm sisters since 2010. Many discovered them through their Fleet Foxes cover of “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” on YouTube – how else does one get known these days?
I only joined the First Aid Kit parade after hearing KCSN tastemaker for the musically gifted Nic Harcourt play “Emmylou” early this year. Like almost all their songs, “Emmylou” touches a dark primordial spirit in our souls. Its lyrics are come-hither enticements to love lost. With a dark target sighted, the chorus ventures into Americana music’s past, recognizing the woman behind the man:
I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June
And you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too.
No, I’m not asking much of you
Just sing little darling, sing with me.
Like Mumford and Sons did with Americana music, these Swedish sisters reimport our country music, relegated from the mainstream media for so many years, with new sensibilities. Whether inspired by lost love or lost music, Johanna (the younger) and Klara (the elder) put together simple songs about connections, presented with lyrical complexity:
But I’m holding back,
That’s the strength that I lack,
Every morning keeps returning at my window.
And it brings me to you.
Sweden must be located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Tennessee because these tunes sound so local and urgent to me; their words and songs defy you not to care. This night at The Observatory, the sassy-talking duo picked a Jack White cover and “My Silver Lining” to end their first set.
Let no one say they had to sit home on Monday night, money in pocket, and beer in hand. There was life, there was rock and country this November night. When you have a chance to see First Aid Kit live, don’t see the band just for the fascinating covers, see them because they sing of things we feel and often can not speak. I am starting a petition on change.org to revoke their visas and grant them citizenship forbidding them from leaving the American music scene.