Regrets? I have a few. One of my biggest of recent vintage: forgoing First Aid Kit at the Union Transfer in March of 2012. I loved their then-current album, The Lion’s Roar, and wanted to see them, but the scheduling couldn’t have been worse. They were in town the day after Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band’s two-night stint at the Wells Fargo Center and playing a venue I’d heard not-so-good things about. Just about anyone following Bruce has it tough; add in an awful concert hall and… I passed.
I’ve been kicking myself ever since.
If you’re unfamiliar with First Aid Kit, they’re a Swedish folk-rock duo (sisters Johanna and Klara Söderberg) with country overtones. They couple gorgeous harmonies with oft-bittersweet lyrics – imagine splicing the DNA of Simon & Garfunkel with that of Emmylou Harris and you almost have an idea of their sound. I say “almost” because, of course, one can never capture sound in print. So here they are singing “America,” the classic S&G song, and “Emmylou” from The Lion’s Roar, which is the song that introduced me to them. (The Wikipedia bio does a good job of detailing their history.)
Anyway, come Monday the 9th Diane was ill and the weather was too – buckets of rain splashed down from the sky several times on my solitary drive into the city. The new First Aid Kit album, Stay Gold, was slated to be released the following day, so I incessantly listened to the two songs provided upfront when pre-ordering the album from iTunes, “My Silver Lining” and “Cedar Lane.” Both, at least to my ears, are hypnotic – so much so that I’d decided I had to see them despite this show also being at the Union Transfer.
The weather cleared by the time I arrived on Spring Garden Street, which was good because the venue is strictly general admission; lines can – and did, this night – queue down the block prior to the door opening. I found myself waiting amidst teens and 20-somethings – pretty much the opposite of my Jackson Browne experience from a few years back. The only other folks in my pushing-50 demographic looked to be shepherding their children.
Inside, the Union Transfer is essentially a larger TLA with a few balconies. That is to say, a primarily standing room-only concert hall that can fit 1000 people. I made my way close to the stage where, again, I was the lone old folk (though a few 30-somethings were nearby with their preteen daughter). Drums and a steel guitar were visible through the dry ice clouding the stage. A young woman in front of me turned around to say that if she blocked my view to let her know – she’d move. She also said she’d heard they could be loud. I laughed. There is loud and there is LOUD, and I foresaw no danger of First Aid Kit blowing out my eardrums.
They came on at 9:30 to the mournful opening of “Shattered & Hollow,” one of many standout Stay Gold songs they showcased over the next 90 minutes, including “Waitress Song,” “Heaven Knows” (not the old Donna Summer song, I hasten to add, though it would be fun to hear them cover it) and the aforementioned “Cedar Lane” and “My Silver Lining.” Also in the mix: such old favorites as “Ghost Town,” “Blue,” “The Lion’s Roar” and “King of the World”; and a rockin’ rendition of Bob Dylan’s “One More Cup of Coffee.” They closed with a sterling “America” and sing-along “ Emmylou”; I have to admit, I wondered while they sang just how many of the kids know the music of Johnny, June, Gram and Emmylou. (Hopefully, if they don’t, the song spurs them to investigate it.)
All in all, it was a wondrous, soul-stirring show. Even the venue wasn’t as awful as feared. It’s no Kimmel Center or Keswick Theatre, mind you, but as far as cement floors go… it’s a cement floor. The great thing about music – good music, at least – is that it takes you away; and if you’re old or middle-aged, like me, you come away feeling younger than yesterday. The only downside, in fact, had nothing to do with the music. This was my first concert in 25 years without Diane by my side – it was just plain odd to not be able to turn to her and say something, to share a joke or to hold her hand, and to analyze everything together on the ride home.