Lykke Lis latest album Wounded Rhymes is a rare sophomore soar, rather than a slump, with near-universal accolades, so its only logical to assume that she will conquer the world as the latest next big thing. Following the release of Wounded Rhymes, the inevitable officially commenced with a week in Los Angeles for a major promotional blitz included an in-store performance at Amoeba Records, a sold-out show at El Rey, appearances on KCRWs Morning Becomes Eclectic, Conan, and Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and culminated with a free performance at the Mondrian Hotels Skybar.
In case anyone at Skybar had not yet heard the news or given Wounded Rhymes a listen, the central lesson of the evening was loud and clear: Lykke Li has reinvented herself. Lykke Li recently underwent an identity crisis and subsequent transformation and what separates the new Li from her Youth Novels incarnation is a darkness borne from the unfathomable sadness and disillusionment that accompanies a broken heart and the frustration of being pigeon-holed and misunderstood. To drive the point home even further, nary a Youth Novels song made it into the 45 minute set.
Fortunately, Lykke Li has not shed her ability to captivate as a live performer. At Skybar, Li performed every new song with undeniable energy as she never seemed to stay still for more than a second. Despite her relentless grooving, Lykke Lis singing was spot-on, maintaining the vocal maturation and richness of Wounded Rhymes. One of the highest points of the short set was a transformation of The Big Pinks noisy Velvet into an acoustic love ballad that was as affecting as it was surprising. Although the cheerfulness of Youth Novels is largely gone, Lykke Li never stopped dancing along; moving to the groove for even the more somber laments, such as opener Jerome and Phil Spector homage Sadness Is a Blessing, and engaging the crowd throughout the set. The difference here is that the numbers are for slow dancing, and Lykke Li implored the audience to do just that.
Light up and lets dance, said Lykke Li before revealing that her hooks are as sharp as ever on Youth Knows No Pain. Stopping the band halfway through Pain, Li inquired if the audience was ready to dance. It could have been due to fear of falling or knocking someone into the pool or a widespread preference for fashionable indifference over potentially embarrassing expressions of enthusiasm, but her requests for a slow dance were denied by the crowd.
With matter-of-fact statements of herself as a new person and direct requests for specific audience reactions, Lykke Li has an undeniable frankness that is both refreshing and in conflict with the subtleness in her music. Unrequited Love is probably true to its namesake, but Get Some is surely not actually about oral sex, after all. The dark new songs of Lykke Li that were written and recorded in sunny Echo Park reveal considerable vulnerability, but at Skybar she delivered them with a ferocity that was anything but delicate. Contradictions such as these coupled with the sort of drastic transformation that rarely comes after two albums make Lykke Li fascinatingly unpredictable and a bona fide star.
Love out of Lust
I Follow Rivers
Youth Knows No Pain
Sadness Is a Blessing
Velvet (The Big Pink cover)