Lykke Li at the Barbican
Swedish singer-songwriter’s Lykke Li’s modus operandi is best explained by one of her album titles: So Sad, So Sexy. She seems to be perpetually heartbroken, her back catalogue a melancholy lament to lost or unrequited loves, from 2011’s notable Wounded Rhymes to this year’s Eyeye.
The Barbican’s main hall is flooded with dry ice, cannons pouring out mist throughout the show. It’s impressive that Lykke Li manages to sing through it. She takes to the stage in a black trench coat, black biker boots and slicked-back hair – a look that is The Matrix by way of The Girl with The Dragon Tattoo with a smattering of psychotic ballerina in the Black Swan-like glittering, dark eye makeup. She has a double dressed exactly the same joining her at times. As the lights go up, they are both curled up on a circular stage set that revolves and represents a bed.
The opening section of the show is songs from latest album Eyeye. Li’s voice is sweet like candy floss, with a tremulousness fluttering through it that conveys the depth of the emotion she feels. The sound has a nasal quality, but decoratively so, and the high notes she lets disperse into the night, wispy and pretty. Though the songs are one-note – that is sad bangers – they are mesmerising, and so is she; the sorrow feels incantatory, rather than monotonous. Of the new stuff, Carousel and U&I are highlights, although it’s hard to pick out single songs in the wash of catharsis that they provoke.
Halfway through Lykke and her double remove their trench coats to reveal matching corsets, her double in fact a man, representing her soulmate perhaps? They embark on a sexy pas de deux of contemporary choreography in a sensual depiction of a relationship that shows the tenderness, reciprocity, support and intimacy of an ideal union. It’s surprisingly beautiful.
The second half brings older material. Lykke asks who in the audience is heartbroken before imploring them to sing along to Never Gonna Love Again. Characteristically, after this declaration (which we don’t believe anyway) she’s singing breakthrough song Little Bit again (“I think I’m a little bit… in love with you/But only if you’re a little bit… in lo-lo-lo-lo-love with me”), and thus she is back on the carousel. It’s why we love her: she’s a fearless explorer of the wild lands of love, pushing through that emotional landscape that makes us human. She ends the show with I Follow Rivers, a sad banger to end all sad bangers about wild loyalty (“I follow you, dark doom, honey”).
You kind of wish Lykke some long overdue luck in love, but she makes heartbreak look so good.
Photos: Virginie Viche
For further information and future events visit Lykke Li’s website here.
Watch the video for the single Highway to Your Heart here: