Perspective is a powerful tool to have in your pocket as an individual. It can make even the worst situation a blessing in disguise, as learned strength can produce a rose from the thorn patch, and doors unlocked and opened where others closed. This perspective is even more valuable when you manage to find a way to share it with those you love - to find a way to take that progression and communicate it to those that need it. Swedish indie pop singer Lykke Li found perspective like that not too long ago and put it in a form that could be easily shared with those in need. Her third full-length record I Never Learn was inspired by the most painful breakup of her life. The thirty minute LP took two and a half years to make and, listening to every song, you can hear the tiresome effort and energy it took to stitch a cohesive vision of this sadness together so precisely. Alone, the record is a beautiful tragedy. When Lykke Li visited the KEXP studio shortly after the record's release, her performance was marvelous, but she was quite timid, as if the freshly healed wounds still stung a bit. Truly, after an upending of one's foundation such as hers, it is easy to understand how you don't wake up the next day the same exact person.But, as Li has described it, I Never Learn completes a trilogy with 2008's Youth Novels and 2011's Wounded Rhymes about finding love and finding oneself in love, in all the thrills and perils of the mountaintops and valleys along the way. Seen in context, I Never Learn is a very necessary third way of seeing, with Li's first two records offering very, very different ways of their own. But now that the dust has settled and we've had time for I Never Learn to break our hearts, Lykke Li is bringing her love trilogy to the stage to offer a fuller perspective of I Never Learn, in the wild and sensual context of the larger narrative at hand. Li's performance here at the Moore Theater marked the beginning of the US tour, and I can safely say it could not have possibly been more spectacular. Together with Swedish rapper and singer Mapei, Lykke Li offered a captivating performance Wednesday night that easily made for one of the best Seattle has seen all year.This tour is just about a perfect jumping point for Swedish singer Mapei. This week, she has a free single up on iTunes and her debut Hey Hey is streaming on NPR. Meanwhile, every night, Mapei and her band hit another North American city primed for an explosion of new fans. Mapei's style is an easy sell - she takes hints from the likes of Lykke Li and Lauryn Hill in equal measure. But everything is drenched in a lovable pop gloss that makes Mapei's music both engaging and danceable. Plus, her band threw down some fantastic drum and bass grooves throughout the evening. Mapei was a great choice of a tour opening for Li, and it won't be long before we see her return to Seattle as a headliner.
The mood was heavy as the lights went down and Li's band started in on the I Never Learn set list. But as warm light guided Li in from the side of the stage and the crowd exploded with applause, it was clear that there was a distinct separation of attitude between the record and the performance here and now. Li masked a smile as an added layer of drums gave the acoustic number a fuller, driving character. "I Never Learn" was no longer a cry of anguish - rather, it was a declaration of embracing oneself. Li moved around the stage getting into the groove and you could see a power building in her eyes. As Wounded Rhymes classic "Sadness Is A Blessing" continued the set, her movements became even more fluid. There was a fire in her eyes that you couldn't put into words. "Do you ever have a dream that you never want to wake from?" Li asked the crowd halfway through I Never Learn cut "Just Like A Dream". As the crowd exploded, she her back to the audience just as another smile started to break, continuing her ghostly float across the stage until the massive drums broke for a moment. A familiar piano line entered the atmosphere - the intro to Drake's now ubiquitous "Started From the Bottom". Li continued to dance as "I Never Learn" drums give body to the dream-like piano groove. The crowd had no idea what was going on, but it didn't matter. This was surreal in every way.
This wasn't the only time Li threw off the crowd with live sampling. "Rich Kid Blues" ended with a chopped up blues rendition of the "Drunk In Love" intro, with Li playing the cymbal as her backup vocalist sang that harmonic line in pitch perfect form. Then towards the end of the show, "Youth Knows No Pain" was given a coda with Yeezus cut "Send It Up", as Li sang the chorus over the atonal hook. At first glance, this may just seem like a clever way to integrate more club-ready dance music into Li's show. But really, she doesn't need any help - if you've ever seen Lykke Li live, you would echo this sentiment without question. Rather, it seems Li is continuing the message that context is everything. On the I Never Learn tour, Li is transforming a heartbroken, vulnerable record into a source of power, independence, and self-worth. Everything is a matter of perception, and the message doesn't change as the medium evolves. These small inclusions made for one hell of surprise for fans in the audience and a very fun way of keeping the feeling of evolution going until the very end.
But of course, Li brought plenty of familiar fun to the stage was well. For both of the Youth Novels classics that Li brought out ("Dance, Dance, Dance" and "Little Bit"), crowd participation was a necessity. Li held a dance contest between both sides of the room and had the whole building sing along for her breakthrough single, as well as her cover of Fleetwood Mac classic "Silver Springs". Before her band broke into "Never Gonna Love Again", Li turned to the crowd and got serious. "As you all know, I made this new record for one reason: to have this right now, the epic power ballad moment!" Lighters and iPhones came out across the sea of fans and everyone sang along, making one of the heaviest tracks on the new record a mutual moment of power ballad bonding. Lykke Li may wear all black and write some incredibly painful love songs, but that doesn't upend the fact that she has a razor sharp sense of humor and an excellent command over a crowd.
I Never Learn closer "Sleeping Alone" was played earlier in the evening right after a particularly gorgeous rendition of "Love Me Like I'm Not Made of Stone". So to end the show here tonight in her encore, Li broke into a stripped down version of "Heart of Steel". Initially, the track was just her and the guitar, piercing a dead silence from the crowd until the full band came in for the second verse and she had the crowd join for the last chorus. The moment was impossibly powerful, and just goes to prove the perspective that Li has come to possess after a few difficult years, and furthermore, how willing she is to share it with her fans. It was impossible not to come away from "Heart of Steel" tonight with a fire in your soul - I don't think Li would want it any other way. Tonight's performance was a dream of a tour opener and one of the best shows Seattle will see this year.
I Never Learn is out now Atlantic through Li's own imprint LL.
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