When folk duo First Aid Kit broke through with the 2012 album The Lion’s Roar, their updating of the baroque country rock of Johnny Cash and Emmylou Harris was so artful and emotive, it was assumed they hailed from somewhere deep in heartland USA. In fact, the sisters, barely out of school, had grown up in suburban Sweden and, at the time, scarcely set foot in the United States. Their richly twanging American accents were a product of their education at an English language school in Stockholm.
This led to predictable griping about authenticity — a complaint Johanna and Klara Söderberg nonchalantly blew out of the water, first with the Lion’s Roar, now with follow-up LP Stay Gold (the title a line from Robert Frost). On both collections they sing their sorrows out with poise and underplayed vehemence, splicing the soulful sadness of their idols (one song is named for Emmylou Harris) with a hearty serving of ‘Gen Yennui’. If you can get past the idea of two 20-nothing sisters from Sweden channelling Appalachian ennui there is much to savour.
Live, they recreated the gothic pomp and soaring melancholy of their albums, though with an ethereal streak you weren’t expecting — the harmonies soared higher; Johanna’s keyboards added a layer of shoe-gaze gauziness. With its softly lulling tempo and woe-is-me lyrics Blue was wispy and downcast; ‘Waitress Song’ and ‘Cedar Lane’ offered a gorgeous rebooting to the tics and tropes of classic Nashville.
They found time for a cover of Jack White’s ‘Love Interruption’ (the sisters collaborated with White at his studio in Tennessee last year) and had fun with their best loved tune, ‘Emmylou’.
The best bit came halfway through as they abandoned mics for an a capella tilt at ‘Ghost Town’ (no relation to The Specials track). From their 2010 debut album The Big Black and the Blue, it was a sweetly devastating dirge with a cloud-scraping melody. Singing without amplification is a familiar stunt, especially for folkies. Nonetheless, this was special — it felt as if the entire room had taken a collective intake of breath and held it until the end.