One of the homework assignments for the writing workshop I’ve joined is to write a piece based on the prompt, “Think of a time you did something that was supposed to be fun but wasn’t (or vice versa). Then, pretend you’ve been hired by a magazine to recount the experience, and write a 500-word-max essay that describes both the experience and your particular impressions of / distaste for / questions about it.”
Here is what I wrote.
Prescription Sudafed might have been helping my sinus infection, but it was an amphetamine. The 12-hour time-release formula wore off by late afternoon and left me absolutely exhausted. I spent evenings in a stupor, hoping I would finally sleep that night. (Spoiler: I didn’t.)
Such was my state in early October of 2018, on the day I was supposed to see First Aid Kit perform. I was high on speed and hadn’t slept in six days. The idea of sitting calmly in a theater listening to a folk duo sounded torturous.
I was not familiar with the band or terribly eager to see them. They are Swedish and they are sisters; I learned later their names are Johanna and Karla Söderberg. The songs I had heard on Spotify exhibited lovely harmonies and mellow, soothing tones. I assumed it would be a typical low energy indie folk show, along the same vein as The Wailing Jennys, The Head and the Heart, A Fine Frenzy, The Civil Wars, Iron and Wine, and many others I had enjoyed through the years.
My mood caused me to crave harder hitting music, like Ani DiFranco or Melissa Ferrick. I needed music that would inspire me and keep me awake, not songs that would lull me and make me long for sleep that was never going to come. I did not find my seat in the theater enthusiastically.
The concert opened with “Distant Star,” the seventh track off First Aid Kit’s newest album, “Ruins,” which was released in January of 2018. The recorded version of “Distant Star” is a solid track, which is, like many others from First Aid Kit, rather devoid of feeling. The technical artistry is undeniable. The emotion, however, is lacking.
This was not at all the case when it was performed live. A light show, video backdrop, live band, and the energy of the two sisters made the song into an entirely different experience. The line, “I’ll try not to let the world and its darkness bring me down,” was not sung sweetly as it was on the album. The sisters were angry and bitter, and I sensed their joy in expressing these emotions without restraint.
The fury exhibited during, “You Are The Problem Here,” a single they released in 2017 to honor International Women’s Day, was palpable. The soft harmonies disappeared and their voices became guttural, the usual “pretty” of their songwriting style laid aside completely. These were two people who were pissed off and weren’t afraid to show it.
The experience of seeing them live was far more like a rock concert than a folk performance. None of their four albums do their music justice. Their recorded tracks are overly reserved and do not showcase their talent well. I hope to see more of their fire and energy in future releases.
However, I need not have been concerned about attending a First Aid Kit concert having not slept for six days. I had no problem at all staying awake.