Having sold out two nights well in advance at Manchester’s finest of venues The Albert Hall, First Aid Kit and support Van William were well-prepared to showcase their new records to the hungry crowds
Van William – a close friend of the Söderberg sisters and former member of both Waters and Port OBrien – kicked things off, playing tracks from his recently-released debut record Countries, to an already packed hall. With elements of Ryan Adams, The Head And The Heart and Vance Joy, William visits the classic themes of love and loss, but also the state of his home nation and the political climate at large. Stating that he and his bandmates are from a little place where a lot of shit is happening, he introduced the storming Fourth Of July – a number that rattled and rolled into the memory bank.
William has previously described his solo work as songs that ‘sound exactly like I feel – restless, reeling, heartbroken and pissed about whatever this country is, and ready to burst’. This is evident most clearly in his finest track Revolution, which was performed alongside the First Aid Kit duo, as part their own encore. It was certainly a performance worth waiting for.
Prior to this highlight however, was a brief two-hour interlude, which was filled by a certain sister-duo from Stockholm. Now into their eleventh year as a band, we have seen Klara and Johanna Söderberg rise from a quiet and shy acoustic duo at Manchester’s Deaf Institute in 2010, to a gutsy and confident power, brimming with new talents, strong vocals and an increasingly assured stage presence. That’s not to say that they aren’t still incredibly graceful and charming; Klara asserted her love for a city that was once her home for 2 years, whilst Johanna introduced her fellow bandmates with such energy and vigour that made us wish we were her friend, if not colleague.
While Manchester battled with the Beast From The East (the snowstorm whipping up outside), the Scandinavian duo provided enough warmth and joy for the audience to forget the ongoing blizzard and become utterly enchanted by the girl’s energetic and inspiring performance. While wrapped in Nordic knits and Pretty Green Parkas, the room of FAK fans was transported to The Söderberg’s world of fantasy and folklore. The show was as easy on the eye as it was on the ear, with beautiful country imagery providing a backdrop for the ladies’ radiant talent.
Those stunning harmonies are also still very much present and a constant. Opening the set with Rebel Heart and It’s A Shame, two stand out tracks from the recently-released fourth record Ruins, the sister’s impressive vocals have only improved with time. Their bond and relationship creates a sound to behold.
The swooning Fireworks, the country-twinged Postcard, a simply stunning rendition of Nothing Has To Be True and the heartbreaking yet glorious To Live A Life were all further highlights from the new record, and proved that these two women are continuing to be a tour-de-force.
As expected, the hugely popular Emmylou produced the biggest singalong of the evening, whilst King Of The World had the audience pulling some shapes – or at least swaying on the spot. However, it was the duo’s politically-charged 2017 single You Are The Problem Here – released in honour of last year’s International Women’s Day – which was the true highlight of the evening. Gritty, defiant and direct, Klara and Johanna roared with frustration and determination in their condemnation of men who commit rape and sexual assault – “I hope you fucking suffer”. This was deservedly met with the loudest cheers of the night, as Klara demanded that men be part of the solution, and offered her support for all women out there. It was a moment to savour and certainly remember.
Another standout moment of the evening was when the girl’s covered Heart’s Crazy On You. This track allowed the band to demonstrate yet another string to their already impressive bow. The song was fun and slightly more raucous than the rest of their exceptionally well-put-together show. It displayed a slightly more rugged depth to the sister’s talent which was exciting to see.
The night came to a close with a classic First Aid Kit and crowd singalong, this time for new track Hem Of Her Dress, before Van William jumped up to perform the aforementioned Revolution, alongside the sisters and band. The Swedish duo continued the encore with a belting rendition of Master Pretender, taken from their 2014 record Stay Gold before ending with the always-brilliant My Silver Lining.
Another triumphant couple of shows for both Van William and First Aid Kit in Manchester – though it’s not their home anymore, this city is more than happy to welcome them back at any time, with arms wide open.
Dom Kay & Jessica Newsome