Review: First Aid Kit – Club Academy, Manchester

Swedish sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg, aka First Aid Kit, have been firm favourites for a number of years, yet this evening would be the first time seeing the duo perform on stage. It’s fair to say that that incredibly excited would be an understatement. Following the release of their outstanding new record The Lion’s Roar, it came as little surprise that they had sold-out the original venue of Manchester Academy 3 and had bumped up to a grander, though still brilliantly intimate stage, just a few paces away in Club Academy.

Support came from Samantha Crain, a singer-songwriter from Oklahoma who we have been keeping track of for a while now. Her distinctive and unique voice was a perfect way to open the evening, as she delivered a number of magnificent tracks from both her You (Understood) and A Simple Jungle LP’s. Though quiet and nervous at times, her performance and confidence rose throughout the set, and by the end it would be fair to say she had made her mark on the crowd.

The Söderberg sisters then took to the stage, alongside an additional member to First Aid Kit – the drummer. This small addition was personally welcomed as I had hoped for a grander sound, much like their new album. In fact, I had initially hoped for several more fellow musicians to help them deliver the sound of The Lion’s Roar and was a little surprised, given their obvious popularity, that a full band was still not being used. Quite early in the set, First Aid Kit performed two personal favourites from the record, Emmylou and Blue. Despite the obvious quality of these two performances, even without a full band, my disappointment was re-fuelled as an indistinct backing track played the part of filling in for the remaining instruments, taking a bit away from these remarkable tracks…it wasn’t lack-lustre, just a little weak.

However…as the show continued, this initial disappointment was batted away with great force and became just a distant memory by the end of the set. What one cannot forget nor avoid, are the incredible harmonies that these talented, youthful siblings can deliver. Moreover, it must be recognised that the majority of their tracks are made even more distinctive and stunning, when being performed by just the two of them (plus drummer man). Performances of early releases Hard Believer and Heavy Storm were breathtaking and flawless; whilst an unplugged, a cappella version of Ghost Town, sung away from the mic and at the edge of the stage, was simply haunting and incredibly beautiful – a highlight of the evening for many I’m sure.

More recent tracks such as Dance To Another Tune, The Lion’s Roar and a gorgeous cover of Fever Ray’s When I Grow Up were met with equal adoration, particularly as the sisters began to show a more playful and rocky side to them, throwing their hair and flowery ponchos into all manner of shapes and thoroughly getting stuck into the energy of the songs. It was a delight to see that, though mature and world-weary for their age, they still have that youthful, fun side that comes with many performers of just 22 and 19 years of age.

The siblings were also incredibly polite and charming, cracking jokes about their previous tour with Peter, Bjorn and John (yeh, the whistle guys), as well as agreeing with their father (First Aid Kit’s tour manager, sound technician and, well, father) that everyone should shut up before performing Ghost Town.

The duo were accompanied by Samantha Crain for the encore, starting with an utterly breathtaking and heartfelt performance of Crain’s track The Dam Song…one of the finest performances I have witnessed for some time. And then, with little surprise, they smashed out a barn-stomping rendition of record closer King Of The World, with Oberst’s lyrics being delivered by the slightly over-excited Crain!

The evening was, as one had hoped, a great success and had met all expectations from the Söderberg sisters. Granted, I had been a little moody to start off with, but by the end I was left chuckling at myself for ever doubting the talents of First Aid Kit. The fact that they didn’t have a full band only mattered for one, perhaps two songs, whilst the rest flourished without the need of anyone else but the siblings and drummer on stage. It will be interesting to see how First Aid Kit develop  as they grow with age and experience, but without doubt these two will be producing records and performances at a very high standard for a long time to come.