After finishing their regular set of finely-tuned folk music, First Aid Kit took the stage at the Black Cat for a second time and said they were going to play a song by “the coolest woman ever.” Immediately, one audience member shouted “Joni Mitchell,” and folk-fan heads throughout the audience nodded in approval.
It therefore came as a surprise to most of the audience members when Johana Söderberg said “her name, of course, is Patti Smith” and then joined her sister Klara for a slow, haunting cover of “Dancing Barefoot.”
What followed was the brightest moment of the entire show.
Their dark folk take on Smith’s song started out sounding like the soundtrack to a funeral in a Faulkner novel, then slowly grew into a rolling blues stomper à la Black Keys. Klara delivered the song’s spoken-word final verse with so much emotion that it seemed as though she had re-written the verse from her own experience.
This performance alone illustrates why First Aid Kit manages to stand out in the crowded genre of folk revival. Although they became famous with their pristine cover of Fleet Foxes’ “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” on YouTube and their latest hit “Emmylou,” which occupy the sunny, grassy middle ground between the Dixie Chicks and Fleet Foxes, First Aid Kit’s appeal goes beyond pure folk.
The sisters, especially Klara, have a powerful attitude that comes across in their live performances. This attitude could come from their dad’s collection of punk and new wave records that the sisters grew up with before they discovered folk music.
To be clear, First Aid Kit hasn’t forsaken the pristine folk and soft harmonies that made them famous. Their set included several examples of soft-spoken harmonies and light acoustic guitar. In fact, the contrast between the softer songs and the bluesy jams, in which the sisters both deliver full-bodied vocals that could stand on their own, show the two are even better together.
Of course, even with their unexpected bluesy moments, First Aid Kit were softer and more folksy than the opening act.
British trio Peggy Sue, whose 2011 album “Acrobats” had them experimenting with a heavier, more rock sound than their previous folk releases, proved that plugging in was a huge step in the right direction. The harder sound fit perfectly into their rockabilly-inspired arrangements, sounding reminiscent of early blues rock.
What is most exciting, however, is the indication that Peggy Sue didn’t jump from one genre to another. The group pushed the limits of blues rock during their set, too, with several well-placed forays into fuzzed out garage rock, which were unexpected at a folk concert but greatly appreciated.
Although First Aid Kit and Peggy Sue draw crowds for their straightforward folk, nobody was complaining when they plugged in and rolled with less flower and more power.