- The Staves
It’s been a long time since I attended a gig at Mountford Hall. Over a decade ago, in fact, to see Motörhead perform. Being back feels like home, although the circumstances this time are much different. Instead of the heavy, rock’n’roll-infused riffs of the late Lemmy Kilmister, I’m here to listen to Swedish sisters Klara and Johanna Söderberg perform their distinctive brand of indie folk rock. According to their support act, THE STAVES, I’m “in for a fucking treat”.
The Staves – a trio comprising sisters Jessica, Camilla and Emily Staveley-Taylor – introduce themselves with a harmonised, intertwining a cappella that stuns the sold-out crowd into silence. This creates a sort of intimacy between the trio and their audience that remains throughout their 30-minute set. It is an unusual feeling – almost ethereal – and at times I forget I am in a packed 2,300-capacity venue; the silence only breaking in between each song to rapturous applause.
The Staves, just like FIRST AID KIT, have been described as folk, but their compositions and lyrical content are dark, brooding harmonies hinting at a band that, despite the beauty displayed in their voices, are just as pissed off as the rest of us. “Oh, I’m tired as fuck. Oh, I’m tired as fuck. Dry my eyes on the back of my sleeve and do my coat up.”
As guitarist Klara and bassist Johanna take the stage, followed by their live band – Melvin Duffy, Scott Simpson and Steve Moore – they waste no time by delving into their latest album, Ruins, performing Distant Star and the single It’s A Shame. Under the shared spotlight, and in front of a video projection, the Söderberg sisters sing in perfect harmony. Unable to contain their excitement from the crowd, they play various tracks from 2012’s The Lion’s Roar and 2014’s Stay Gold, including Master Pretender.
The highlight of their set comes when Klara switches her acoustic for an electric guitar and begins strumming with more ferocity than First Aid Kit’s usual low-key folk sound. Her vocals become hoarser as she declares, “I am so sick and tired of this world”. This is First Aid Kit’s non-album single You Are the Problem Here, a song written in reaction to sexual assault and rape culture. “You are the problem here. No one made you do anything… and I… hope you fucking suffer.”
Addressing the song afterwards Klara and Johanna question why it is the victims of sexual assault that are asked questions pertaining to temptation; challenging them as if they are somehow at fault. First Aid Kit’s message is clear. Victims of rape should not be blamed. If you rape, you are the fucking problem, and, to the loudest applause of the night, Klara declares “this is a song we wish we didn’t feel the need to write… This is our sexual assault protest song”.
From their latest EP, Tender Offerings, First Aid Kit perform the track Ugly, a song about compromising who you truly are in an effort to gain the affections of others. It is quite the contrast to the previous song, but no less important in its message. “Oh, if I’m ugly, I am still so much more than that. I’m so much more than you’ll ever know.”
For their encore, First Aid Kit begin by playing the song that bears the name of this tour: Rebel Heart. And now I’m singing along. There is something about this particular song that gives me Fleetwood Mac vibes – particularly the warmth of their 1977 album Rumours. Fireworks soon follows, before First Aid Kit finish their set with My Silver Lining to an appreciative audience. Smiles stretching from each of their faces as they embrace the applause on what has been a night of sadness, anger, self-reflection and uplifting Americana.