When First Aid Kit played Austin City Limits Music Festival in 2012, the sisters Söderberg were drowning in flowy fabric. The Swedish folk act harmonized over distinctly American stories — including their cover of Simon and Garfukel’s “America,” an on-the-nose move easily forgiven by how stunning their rendition was.
In 2017, Klara and Johanna have ditched the gossamer get-ups and found diehard audience of fans. As they returned to ACL Fest for a golden-hour Sunday set, they seemed more at ease, more powerful and a little more willing to rough up that fine-tuned sibling sweetness. One thing hadn’t changed from their first fest, though. Stories. They’ve got ’em, they tell ’em better than most and they’re not afraid to borrow a good one.
Here are a few moments that enchanted an adoring field of folks at the HomeAway stage on the final day of the fest’s first weekend.
The Söderbergs and their backing band ring true because they interpret the sounds of ice cream pitstops at Howard Johnson and fill-er-ups at Route 66 Mobil stations and smoking Lucky Strikes at the bus station without languishing in pastiche. Their stage performances crackle with life, with the sisters’ Nordic cool tying the sails down enough to help you feel truly at peace. The liberal use of pedal steel guitar gives a sense of place; Johanna’s steady bass and Klara’s straightforward guitars stay conservative. All songs with lyrics about a wolf mother “worn so thin” like “Wolf” (well, this might be the only one) should have such a desperado edge.
Sisters, sisters. There could never be another mister … Like any family band worth their salt — maybe not Oasis — the Söderbergs speak a secret language. It was evident in every harmony, of course, but on “Master Pretender,” the sister held each other’s foreheads up to the other, finding each other’s faces in a tango of a jam session. Walk this way.
“I could move to a small town and become a waitress,” Klara sang on “Waitress Song.” “Say my name was Stacey, and I was figuring things out. See, my baby, he left me. And I don’t feel like here tonight.” Then: “We stopped a while at a roadside restaurant, where the waitress was sitting outside smoking in her car. She had that look of total fear in her eyes, and as we drove away from there she looked at me and she smiled.” Even in Sweden, they know that there’s nothing more romantic than the American waitress. Or maybe they’re just watched “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
First Aid Knew when to hold ’em and when to fold ’em, and Sunday was the time for playing their hand on a cover of Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler.” I saw a few dad-adjacent types mouthing all the words. It was no “America,” but really, what is? The sisters’ sense of classic Americana radiates as an obsessive love for a world consigned to biopics and vintage bins. Their fans rummaged for the rarities with them. In a lull, several calls to play “Emmylou” chirped into the shimmering light. It took a little bit, but First Aid Kit got to their promise to be the Emmylou and the June to some lucky Graham and Johnny. A woman near the front yelped, “It’s ‘Emmylou’!” on the first note.
Invigoration is not the point, really. Pondering, yearning, sure. But going to a First Aid Kit isn’t usually your way of getting riled up. “You Are the Problem Here” made this set a punk show, a righteous one, burning with catharsis. Inspired by the injustice of the Stanford rape case, First Aid Kit wrote this open letter to Brock Turner, and the title says it all. With frayed, nervy guitar and hoarse voices, the sisters testified about “some man’s sweaty touch” and “entitled hands” in stark detail. “I am a human being,” Klara sang. “I hope you f***ing suffer,” she screamed. Klara should be brought in to yell at every bad man in the world. She had a chorus in front of her to amplify her voice, if she ever needs it.
Come back in five more years. Hopefully, First Aid Kit will be back with more stories to tell.