OAKLAND — Sisters Klara and Johanna Soderberg are known, as First Aid Kit, for writing sad songs and wrapping them in beautiful, romanticized Americana. And they accomplished that easily at their tour opener at the Fox Theater on Wednesday. But First Aid Kit also brought another, previously unseen side of their group: Anger.
Though the name “Larry Nassar” was not uttered at the show, the former sports medicine doctor who earlier that day was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting more than 150 female athletes, could have been on the sisters’ minds as they performed the bile-filled anthem “You Are the Problem Here” halfway through their set.
“I think I speak for every woman in the crowd when I say I’m fucking sick of being afraid,” Klara said after the song, a standalone single released in spring of 2017. “I have to take a second. I get so angry when I sing that song.”
Some of that spark was present as First Aid Kit began the show, with a sweeter “King of the World:” “I am queen of nothing/ I am king of the world.” The song was highlighted by a strong backing band that included two multi-instrumentalists who switched between keyboards, trombone, pedal steel and electric guitars. It was evident on the eerie and bluesy “The Lion’s Roar.” And it was present in the Klara’s guitar playing and forceful wail on a terrific cover of Heart’s “Crazy On You.” When, in 1976, Nancy Wilson originally recorded the intricate acoustic intro to the song—which Klara played to perfection—it was unusual for a female to play lead on a rock song.
All this is to say that First Aid Kit don’t have to stick to saccharinely sad Americana if they want to change tacts. The rest of the show stuck to the script and was no less successful. Ruins tracks like “Rebel Heart,” “It’s a Shame” and “Postcard” (“We have some country-sounding songs, but this one probably takes the cake,” Klara said) blended seamlessly alongside older material like “Stay Gold” and “Emmylou.” The packed crowd sang the entire extended chorus to the latter all by themelves after being prompted.
New track “Fireworks” proved to be another highlight.” “I took a trip out to the frozen lake,” Klara sang. “And you felt so far away/ But I could feel it washing over me/ There’s no escaping the harsh light of day.” The song could be a slow dance at prom if not for the sadness. It’s not too unlike Pearl Jam’s “Last Kiss” in spirit.
The encore included a crowd singalong as the band played new track “Hem of Her Dress” at the lip of the stage, fan favorites “Master Pretender” and “My Silver Lining,” and “Revolution,” a Van Willian song featuring First Aid Kid, for which they brought out the opener.
Alaska native, L.A.-based, longtime Bay Area resident Van William is Van Pierszalowski of the band WATERS. While his new music has some of the poppy scream-alongs that are a hallmark of WATERS, the Van William sound is more restrained and has more in common with his earlier band, Port O’Brien.
Performing as a trio, Van William played a strong, short set of songs of his recently released debut album. On “The Country,” his raspy growl, when combined with the ringing, almost grungy guitars, recalled Grave Dancers Union-era Soul Asylum. He would later say he was under the weather and losing his voice. But on this song, it was to everyone’s benefit.
“Fourth of July,” which did recall WATERS, was a power pop singalong. “Cosmic Sign” was a contemplative road-tripper about looking for the best in the world during difficult times. Van William, who is a good friend of the headliners, closed with “I Found You,” one of several songs on which First Aid Kit sings on his debut, Countries.