First Aid Kit have come a long way since creating a buzz by posting of a Fleet Foxes cover on YouTube back in 2008. Debut album The Big Black & The Blue materialised in 2010 to bring them acclaim and fame and The Lion’s Roar followed in January of this year to further it. Following a sold-out performance in The Workman’s Club in February, Klara and Johanna Söderberg have been upgraded to Vicar Street this time round, bringing their sound to a wider – albeit rain-sodden – audience. “It’s so nice of you all to come here to share your Sunday evening with us in spite of the Armageddon going on outside!” says Johanna – but as the riveting opening notes of ‘In The Morning’ are sung acapella, the impeccable harmonic presence of the Söderberg sisters ringing out crystal clear, it’s instantaneously obvious that it’s been worth the trip.
Klara takes the lead with her acoustic guitar and flawless vocals, Johanna presides over the keyboards with gusto whilst backing up her younger sister in perfect harmony, and a lone percussionist drives the rhythm against a backdrop depicting their title logo laden with visual projections. Given the simplicity of the setup, the magnitude of the music which results is quite startling. First Aid Kit aren’t shy in alerting their audience that there’s a new deluxe edition of The Lion’s Roar on sale should their pockets allow it either – an amusing bit of infomercial-style banter ensues, followed by a sample of bonus track ‘Marianne’s Son’. They’ve gotta pay their bills just like the rest of us, I guess.
It’s First Aid Kit’s more subdued moments that are most striking throughout the set this evening, and the audience are treated to two in quick succession. The drummer exits stage-right and Johanna swaps her keyboard for an autoharp for the stripped-back ‘New Years Eve’, which is exquisite. “We thought we’d abandon modern technology for this next one”, says Klara, before performing the beautiful ‘Ghost Town’ without the aid of amps or microphones – and it’s stunning, even if the incorporation of the world ‘Dublin’ into the lyrics leads to the overzealous crowd drowning it out temporarily. “We’re glad you’re excited we just really need you to be quiet!” scolds Johanna jokingly. They’ve certainly got the charm and stage-presence to match the might of their talents. They’re not shy in sharing their vast range of influences, either – two cover versions hold their own amongst the originals, the first an interesting interpretation of ‘When I Grow Up’ by fellow Swede and “one of the coolest women we know” Fever Ray, and the second a more straightforward take on Simon & Garfunkel’s classic ‘America’, the intricate harmonies and key shifts of which are all the more heightened sung by female voices an octave higher than the norm.
In spite of a shaky start ‘To A Poet’ builds towards a spectacular middle-eight, aided greatly by the synthesised strings of Johanna. The live version of ‘Emmylou’ surpasses its recorded counterpart as the heavy country & western production is set aside, and an amped-up take on ‘I Met Up With A King’ descends into momentary chaos with an unexpected keyboard-thrashing outro. Album #2 title-track ‘The Lion’s Roar’ is suitably intense and atmospheric, and the Conor Oberst co-written ‘King Of The World’ draws it all to a close in an emphatic manner.
“Vicar Street, Dublin – that was insane! You Irish people sure got character… This was a special gig for us!” the Sisters Söderberg Tweeted following the show. The feeling was mutual – a Sunday evening of unrelenting entertainment from First Aid Kit proved the perfect antidote to counteract any impending Monday blues.