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Review: First Aid Kit at Kessler Theater

Posted 6:10pm on Sunday, Oct. 14, 2012

More than once Saturday night, the Kessler Theater felt like the biggest living room in North Texas.

While much of that has to do with the space's immaculate acoustics, attention to detail and cozy camaraderie, the feeling also stemmed from the music being made on stage. Swedish folk duo First Aid Kit (known to their parents as Johanna and Klara Soderberg) made a considerable impression during its debut headlining performance in Dallas, doling out sweet songs and staggering vocals rivaling contemporaries like Fleet Foxes or Eisley for sheer harmonic bliss.

The sold-out crowd, which spilled into the hallway, sat and stood in reverent awe and, blessedly, in near-silence, letting the Soderberg sisters and their drummer render beautiful, finger-picked tunes like buzzy single Emmylou or Blue (both from this year's break-out The Lion's Roar LP). Primarily tied to acoustic guitar and electric piano, the Soderbergs also employ auto-harp and, endearingly, severe headbanging better suited to a mosh pit than two women clad in long, flowing dresses with tresses to match.

But all anyone who was fortunate enough to be inside that room will remember are those voices. Breaking in all the right places, capable of lilts or roars, and wrapped around lyrics that are insightful only insofar as they relate to the Soderbergs' life experiences. The pair is quite young (19 and 21 years old), and some critics have rapped the band for not offering any dazzling revelations to match their vocal prowess.

But First Aid Kit exerts a pull not because of what is being said, but how it is being said (to mangle a quote from Roger Ebert). The music is arresting, filling a room up to its brim and encouraging an audience to sing along, whether by direction from the stage (as the Soderbergs did for Ghost Town, a track from their 2010 debut The Big Black & the Blue) or pure spontaneity. Whether it was one of their songs, or someone else's (First Aid Kit rendered a dynamic Fever Ray tune, and made Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel proud with a stirring reading of America), the sisters deftly toggled between bombast and intimacy.

That feeling of closeness, in a philosophical and literal sense, is a tonic in an era of arm's-length attitude and sterile surface. It's tremendously difficult to remain unmoved by the Soderbergs' display of pure musicality, which stands apart from the ongoing roots/folk revival being spearheaded by the likes of Mumford & Sons or the Avett Brothers. Perhaps First Aid Kit's very name is more fitting than they know -- the purveyors of a sonic salve, and providers of one of the most refreshing --and best -- shows Dallas has seen this year.

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