Lykke Li's Heartbreak Takes Center Stage: Concert Review

Lykke Li Performing Ace Hotel Theater 2 - P 2014
Kyleen James

Lykke Li Performing Ace Hotel Theater 2 - P 2014

Swedish psychedelic cult star straddles the line between "sad songs" and those "acceptable for dancing."

Midway through her 75-minute show Monday, Lykke Li sensed that the sold-out crowd at downtown’s Theater at the Ace Hotel came to dance. She half-apologized for writing “a pretty sad album” -- heartbreak is at the center of her third full-length I Never Learn -- and after cheers rose for danceable tunes, Li was careful to point other songs in the show where dancing would be acceptable.

It felt odd that an audience would crave that from an artist who has worked a vibe of introspection over three albums, gliding from folky roots into a ’60s pop-and-psychedelia milieu with a distinct affinity for the sort of melody associated with her fellow Swedish pop stars.  

PHOTOS: The Scene at Coachella 

Seven of nine songs on her new Atlantic Records album made it into the May 19 set, beginning with the ethereal title track and closing with the fat, echo-laden drums of "Sadness is a Blessing." Li, by and large, adds her name to a continuum that begins with the Shangri-Las and the Ronettes, pushing elements toward the light to achieve an ABBA-like brightness and elsewhere into a darkened corner of psychedelic swirls.

"Just Like a Dream,” “Gunshot” and "Never Gonna Love Again," which would make a perfect mid-tempo vehicle for an ABBA wannabe band, supplied the night’s brighter moments, all of them in the first half of the set. “Little Bit,” the night’s most enthusiastically received performance, is quite an anomaly among her other material. The bass rumbles instead of setting counter-melody, while the organ is more church-like than a Vox or Farfisa sound; the drumming emphasizes the cymbals with a swinging low end that goes against the booming fat drums which drive so many of her newer songs.

STORY: Lykke Li's 'I Never Learn': What the Critics Are Saying

Much as Li set a mood of contrasts early on – sweet melodies and melancholy lyrics - musical diversity commandeered the back end. "No Rest for the Wicked" was the one early track that traded lushness for a dramatic bass-and-treble contrast; her final six tracks, beginning with the one acoustic ballad "Sleeping Alone," explored the breadth of Li’s considerable talent as a singer and songwriter, taking listeners on a Goth and druggy journey with “Rich Kids Blues” and "Youth Knows No Pain," tempering the mood with a rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs.”

Set List:

I Never Learn
Love Out of Lust
Just Like a Dream
No Rest for the Wicked
Hanging High
Never Gonna Love Again
Little Bit
Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone
Sleeping Alone
I Follow Rivers
Rich Kids Blues
Silver Springs (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Youth Knows No Pain
Get Some
Du Är Den Ende
Sadness is a Blessing