Lykke Li’s 2008 debut “Youth Novels” captured the attention of global industry acolytes and turned the pop songstress into a cultural sensation in her native Sweden. Now Li seems to have gained significant traction in the U.S. market, as her follow-up “Wounded Rhymes” continues to grow in terms of both commercial sales and cultish appeal among young fans and tastemaking twentysomethings. Wednesday’s performance at the Greek saw a near sell-out crowd pack the seats at a venue that mere months ago may have seemed an ambitious goal for the young singer.
Sonically, Li has tapped into a vein that blends haunted electronica with wide-eyed pop music. She isn’t as difficult or brilliant as her Swedish compatriots the Knife, nor is she as easily digestible as full-blown mainstream acts like Katy Perry or Rihanna. In many ways Lykke Li stands right in the middle of the road, pushing her music outward but never far enough to lose any of her general pop accessibility. As a result of this overall balance, a major fanbase has emerged — receptive to the perceived “edginess” in Li’s persona yet conservative in terms of the level of ambition it is willing to accept from its musical heroine.
Opening with a monochromatic set of strobe lights, timed ecstatically to the instrumental pulse of “Come Near,” Li’s band emerged dressed entirely in black, evoking the gothic fixation of ’80s guitar-pop icons Echo & the Bunnymen and the Cure. The group generally plays a lean, highly refined brand of pop music, emphasizing traditional rock and pseudo-tribal rhythms while layering synthesizers to create a spooky atmospheric weight. Li engaged the audience immediately with her subtle movements and passionate vocal intonations. “Jerome,” a fairly blatant rewrite of Bat for Lashes’ stunning “Daniel,” set the mood early on, establishing her voice as the central musical tool, floating above and dictating all of the surrounding arrangements.
The setlist flowed with a consistency that allowed the songs to seep seamlessly into one another. At times this had a hypnotic, almost tiring effect, shaken up intermittently by some of the more dance-based tracks. Highlights included “Little Bit,” “Dance Dance Dance” and an engaging medley that spliced Li’s “Richkids” with an instrumental reading of the Knife’s “Silent Shout.”
Los Angeles-based fuzz-pop trio Best Coast played directly before Lykke Li and churned out a straightforward set of guitar-based tunes evoking everything from the Jesus & Mary Chain to the Beatles to the ’90s Riot grrrl punk scene. Singer-guitarist Bethany Cosentino’s songwriting, and Li’s as well, are true products of the post-2000 obsession with mp3s and instantaneous music access. Young artists today grew up listening to anything and everything with relatively little distinction between historical time period and genre. As a result,so much new music today is steeped in a head-spinning number of cultural and artistic reference points. For instance, Cosentino’s “Something in the Way” nods directly to both Nirvana’s “Something in the Way” and the Beatles’ “Something” while sonically and lyrically referencing both bands. Best Coast, Lykke Li and openers Fools Gold are all torchbearers for this new generation of hyper-referential musicians.