Lykke Li evokes heartbreak at Oakland Fox

Danielle Lee/Staff

From a thick haze of smoke, Lykke Li swooped into the Fox Theater last Wednesday like a vehement specter. The Swedish songstress was swathed in billowing, all-black robes, gliding her way across the stage. As the night began with the haunting “Jerome,” Lykke Li’s voice soared and wailed, but the song’s desperation was equally expressed by her intense eyeliner and pleading, outstretched hands. Ferocious physicality set the tone of the show: Lykke Li was out to reclaim love with a vengeance.

While Lykke Li channeled dark passions onstage, the concert underscored a recent major change in her musical persona. A petite singer with Bambi eyes, Lykke Li first broke into the indie pop scene peddling cutesy electro-chic with her debut album, Youth Novels. Her distinct voice, a startling combination of child-like and sultry, has since then shifted from whispered sweetness to a rougher, smokier sound for her sophomore effort, Wounded Rhymes. If the first album was innocent first love, then the second album is heartbreak, exploring a richer, more expansive terrain of moodiness.

Given the new, gritty approach, Lykke Li held impressive command over the oft-contradictory emotional arc of heartache. Backsliding into obsession, Lykke Li took on a sinister edge in her newer single, “I Follow Rivers.” Amidst her band’s thumping percussions, her voice smoldered in a song that blurs the boundaries between romantic fidelity and stalking. By contrast, songs like “Sadness is a Blessing” uplifted the atmosphere, as she bellowed achy longing with cathartic joy.

But Lykke Li’s voice, while highly expressive, is naturally wispy. And where her voice could not match the force of her personality, Lykke Li sustained a dynamic stage presence with props. Chanting the feel-good chorus of an older hit, “When I’m Good, I’m Gone,” Lykke Li marched across the stage, punching a drumstick in the air before attacking a cymbal with fervor. Lovelorn pain does not need to be a drag, as Lykke Li’s ferocity conveyed.

Although Lykke Li’s dramatic movements ruled the night, no female heartbreak is complete without a girl’s night out. In one of the evening’s many highlights, Lykke Li toted the opening act, Johanna and Klara Soderberg of First Aid Kit, back onstage for a healing rendition of “Silent My Song.” Prior to the main show, the folk sister-duo had enthralled with woodsy harmony, and mature, soulful voices. All together, Lykke Li and First Aid Kit were three long-haired, Swedish sirens on stage, whose voices found solace in each other’s company.

Such camaraderie between an opening act and the headliner is rare, and pointed out an essential openness in Lykke Li’s music. Promotions of her first album on YouTube reveal an affinity for jam sessions with her band in unexpected locations: on the street or in a bathroom, with thumb pianos and tambourines for acoustics. Such experimental collaborations with other artists and world instruments underpin her creative approach. While her sound is now darker and more purposed, the spirit of quirkiness remains. As a change of scenery at the concert, Lykke Li strummed an autoharp or buzzed on a kazoo.

What was different — and most fun to watch — was how well Lykke Li’s longstanding eccentricity fit the new fierceness. In a revamp of “Youth Knows No Pain,” Kanye West’s “Power” was sampled while she half-sang, half-rallied the audience with a loudspeaker. After brooding emotions, love seemed best for Lykke Li when recklessly aggressive.

Case in point: “I’m your prostitute, you gon’ get some,” sang Lykke Li with witchy promiscuity towards the end. As she effortlessly shimmied her rear end, it was hard not to agree with her mentality. After a night of heartache, it’s a relief to be a hot mess on the dance floor.