Sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg of First Aid Kit play what might best be described as country and northern. It is Americana by way of Sweden, which is to say a perfectly replicated Nashville sound streamlined with contemporary pop flow and rock bite, gorgeous harmonies and a crisp lyrical edge.
We have homegrown country bands in the UK too – some pretty fine ones. And while there are always questions to be asked about slavish appropriation of foreign musical styles, there are arguments to be made about country music itself being a synthesis of European emigrant folk forms, returning things to the source, and perhaps adding local flavour to what has become an ubiquitous international genre. I am not sure the Söderberg sisters would be interested in such discussions, though, they just seem to really, really like country music. And, right now, they are playing it with more style and verve than just about anybody on the planet.
First Aid Kit strode onto the stage for the first of two nights at the Eventim Hammersmith Apollo dressed like the Flying Burrito Sisters, long hair cascading around elaborately decorated flared trouser suits that might have been designed by the late great Nudie Cohn himself. Their allegiance to a particularly wonderful era of hippy inflected country rock was delightfully addressed by a couple of their best received songs.
On Wild Horses II they sing about a road trip in which lovers argue about who recorded the best version of Wild Horses: Gram Parsons of the Flying Burrito Brothers or the Rolling Stones? “I like Grams,” trilled Klara, to the evident approval of the 3,000-strong crowd. And then there is Emmylou, on which the audience enthusiastically joined in the chorus: “I’ll be your Emmylou and I’ll be your June / If you’ll be my Gram and my Johnny too / No, I’m not asking much of you / Just sing, little darling, sing with me.”
Nevertheless, it would be wrong to call what First Aid Kit do pastiche, because the emotional content of the songs is so resonant and true. Fireworks, in particular, is as powerful as any song released this century, a swooning waltz of heartbreak and longing, in which the sisters’ voices swoop and entwine. Backed by a sinuous four-piece band, this utterly devastating torch ballad was delivered with pinpoint precision.
Fireworks was a standout from First Aid Kit’s 2018 album Ruins, a set of songs about the end of a relationship. Younger sister Klara (29), who sings principle lead and plays guitar, admitted that the experience of “performing those songs every night” on their last tour had been “pretty soul crushing” and they subsequently cancelled all dates in 2019. “I lost the joy of music a little bit,” said Klara. “And then making this new record, I found it again.” “We tried to make something we could sing every night without getting depressed,” added bassist, harmony vocalist and elder sister, Johanna (32).
Latest album, Palomino, certainly offered more upbeat material for the sisters to dig into. A Feeling That Never Came was driven by a guitar groove that resembled T Rex tearing up the Grand Ole Opry, the discofied Out of Our Heads could almost be ABBA on the prairie, whilst the soaring chorus of Angel sounded like a lost Rumours era Fleetwood Mac classic plucking joy from heartbreak: “I’ll love you even if you don’t love me.”
As if to emphasise that heritage, they paid touching tribute to the late Christine McVie with a drop dead gorgeous acoustic version of Songbird, voices as tightly bound as the Everlys, swapping lead and harmony with near clairvoyant communication. Stockholm may be an unlikely source of pure country goodness, but who really cares when First Aid Kit offer such a musical balm for the soul?