By Emily Nelson
I firmly believe that everyone has a “comfort food band” – maybe not necessarily their favorite band per se, but a band whose music they can return to, again and again, and find relief and contentment in, like a warm blanket or a mug of tea. For me, First Aid Kit is that band. Since discovering the Swedish sister duo in high school, I’ve kept coming back to their heartbreaking harmonies and Americana-tinged folk pop – so naturally, when the band released their fourth EP, “Ruins,” earlier this year, I made sure to see them in person when they came through Portland. It seemed only fitting to see them here, especially since the album was recorded locally in Flora studios and produced by Tucker Martine, who is best known for his work with The Decemberists. That fact alone fueled a feeling of kinship throughout the sold-out show, down to the girls dedicating their performance of “Postcard” to an employee at Broder Nord, one of their favorite spots in the city.
Opening the show was Van William, a Los-Angeles based musician whose first album last year featured First Aid Kit on several songs. His roots-inspired rock was certainly high energy, though most around me agreed that his showmanship was distracting from the set and clashed with the breezy punch of his songs. However, he redeemed himself later in the show when he joined First Aid Kit for a performance of their song “Revolution.”
This was my second time seeing First Aid Kit live; the first time was in Seattle following the release of their 2013 album “Stay Gold.” In the time since that album’s release, the band’s musical taste and visual aesthetics have progressed – “Ruins,” while still flush with steel pedal guitars and wistful country melodies, has a decidedly pop-rock edge, which was in full display during the performance on Friday night. Each of their albums has a decided theme, and if the performance on Friday was any indication, the current fixation is hearts. “Ruins” was littered with hearts, and they were everywhere during the show – on Klara’s dress, projected in dreamy kaleidoscope processions over the stage, adorned on the bass drum – the heart theme was even evident in the music, when midway through the girls did a cover of Heart’s “Crazy On You,” giving them a chance to honor another famous sister duo. It was impressive to see the admittedly soft-spoken duo, initially famous for their spare Fleet Foxes cover videos filmed in the Swedish woods, to tackle such an iconic song. Even more so, their performance of “You Are the Problem Here” – a raging anthem against sexual assault written last year – was stunning and angry. But for those who preferred their more sedate, folk-minded songs, there were plenty of those as well – drawing from several of their previous album, the Band performed faithful performances of early favorites like “Wolf,” “King of the World,” and their 2012 hit “Emmylou,” capping off the show with the dreamy “My Silver Lining” from their previous album that left a lasting impression and a reminder of what joy a comfort band can bring.