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First Aid Kit‘s musical roots grow from American country luminaries like Cash and Parsons. It’s a fact they bear proudly, and there’s something about their remodelling of the genre that brings a fresh energy to the genre.
Sisters Johanna and Klara took to Melbourne’s Hi-Fi stage in front of a glimmering gold backdrop, dressed in gold, and launched into their set with the title track from third album, Stay Gold. Their vocal harmonies were front and centre, almost overwhelming initially.
That’s how First Aid Kit often play it. Their experiences are translated into confident, empowering tunes rather than playing the whispering troubadour. “So good to be here TON-I-I-IGHT!” It could come off as a cliché but the energetic charm of a bouncing and clapping Johanna during the intro to King Of The World lent a pinch more truth to it.
Another two from their latest LP – Waitress Song and Shattered & Hollow – proved their temporary Nebraskan surroundings have had a strong influence on their shape and sound. After Cedar Lane‘s plodding, hypnotic balladry, First Aid Kit turned things right down. “Everyone completely quiet — even at the bar,” they shot. The venue was silent as they stepped away from the mic for Ghost Town. The crowd had found their voice by the time the chorus had rolled around creating a stirring performance both on and offstage.
My Silver Lining was an excellent pick-me-up after the change of pace. Bob Dylan’s One More Cup Of Coffee (Valley Below) was transformed into an aggressive rocker, the two women swinging their long straight hair during the breakdown.
The centrepiece of the night was their best song, the majestic The Lion’s Roar. Driving drums set a swift pace and the sisters sing at the top of their lungs about this “children’s tale / the lonesome wail of a lion’s roar”. It’s here that First Aid Kit mix the rock swagger with the lyrical poetry to breathtaking effect.
They thanked their backing band, introducing one as “the Viking of the north”. Heaven Knows was the night’s only real hoedown, after which menacing red lights threw silhouettes on the Hi-Fi’s walls during Wolf.
Their encore was loose by comparison, with a lot of freewheeling talk about Paul Simon’s “true poetry, true art,” and Art Garfunkel’s kooky taste in books. It was, of course, a preface to their finger-picked Simon & Garfunkel cover of America, another unashamed nod to their heart’s second home.
Fan favourite Emmylou was their last. Basically name-dropping its influences in the chorus (“I’ll be your Emmylou / and I’ll be your June / if you’ll be my Gram / and my Johnny too”), it’s played with sincerity and aplomb. First Aid Kit know that “country” is not a dirty word anymore. You just have to embrace it wholeheartedly.
Image: First Aid Kit performing live at Melbourne’s Hi-Fi / Photo: Brett Schewitz