Review + Photography by John Hayhurst

Sisters are doing it for themselves! Two families, the Söderbergs and the Staveley-Taylor sisters create magical harmonies in Newcastle.

I’ve been waiting for this night for 12 months. I was lucky enough to see First Aid Kit at a one-off show in Shoreditch this time last year and as we all filed out of the town hall that night, I spotted two of the Staveley-Taylor sisters popping backstage to see Klara and Johanna. The thought crossed my mind – wouldn’t it be great if they played a show together. Fast forward a year and here we are – Newcastle O2 Academy for a night of harmony and some of the most beautiful voices you will ever hear.

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The Staves have spent a lot of time in Minnesota – living there and writing their next album, briefly returning to the UK last year for only a handful of dates on the brilliantly titled ‘Tired as Fuck’ tour. However, their world has been rocked to the core by the sad passing of their mother. 90% of the audience wouldn’t be aware of any of that, but for me – seeing Emily, Jessica and Camilla standing there without any backing band, it felt emotionally intense to say the least.

The Staves

Then you hear a single vocal from each of the sisters that melts together to form this unique sound, washing over the front rows who just stand there mesmerised. Hopeless is the opener tonight from their surprise collaboration with chamber ensemble YMusic, I find that album The Way is Read, a difficult listen, but live this track breathes really well, it doesn’t carry many lyrics or musical instruments so really showcases that distinctive harmonic sound they make as a sisterly trio.

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There is a distinct rawness to everything, a stripped back approach – Camilla does create much of the looping of vocals with pedals at her feet and on the sampler deck, Jessica on occasional guitar, but each song has layer upon layer of that Staves signature sound. Blood I Bled one of the stand out tracks from the If I Was album sounded amazing, and new song Satisfied equally great, but the high point came when they covered The Waterboys – Whole of the Moon, a song they used to listen to before taking to the stage. Their version was much slower with a more intricate feel, but they really should commit it to record sometime as it felt like one of their own. The audience reaction was huge, with all 3 girls smiling from ear to ear. It felt like an intimate show despite being at the O2 Academy, thankfully the audience gave a lot of respect to them by not chatting during their set. A simple thank you for listening and a promise of a return in 2019, and they signed off with one of their first releases Mexico. It’s pure beauty, simple, effortless and yet absolute bliss on the ears. A single guitar strum, great harmonies and even the audience joining in with the chorus. What a support show, and I think they were genuinely surprised with the audience crying out for more at the end.

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Klara and Johanna are nowhere to be seen as the sound of their band is backing some beautiful sparkling lights bouncing from the disco ball at the side of the stage, there is a black curtain and as it is dropped the stage at the back is revealed with everyone including First Aid Kit playing there. The backline of musicians have travelled with them for at least the last 18 months, a drummer from Scotland, a bloke from Brighton nicknamed Tiger playing some superb pedal steel, guitar and mandolin. Also, a long haired and bearded keyboard player from Seattle, who we are advised likes weed and cats. The quality here shows from the off as they start with Distant Star a track from recent album Ruins. The same clarity and harmony of vocals that we heard from The Staves earlier, can be heard again with another couple of sisters. They follow that effortlessly with It’s a Shame, from the same album by now the sisters have jumped down from the back stage towards their more regular spot at the front microphones. Frequently shaking their heads around particularly during Lions Roar when both of them synchronise the headbanging to make their hair look like a shaggy mane of a big cat. Whilst these girls may be a bit folky, there is a strong bold heart beating underneath all that, and tonight they will show more than enough angst and anger to go with the sweet and sugary sound.

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Klara is definitely being the main mouthpiece, and whilst Johanna may be significantly taller and huskier, she tends to just keep plugging at that bass in the background, dancing and shaking her hair around. When their voices combine though it’s a unique tone of its own creation, there is definitely something about sibling harmonies. Klara is angry though, she’s angry because yet another case of female sexual assault went unpunished, and after explaining this cannot continue, their song You are the Problem Here is delivered with some brutal venom of their own. “I hope you f**king suffer” she screams and the heavy guitar sounds accompanying are more akin to a hard rock show than the alt folk we came looking for. Elsewhere we have some major audience participation with Hem of Her Dress when we all manage to sound like a group of pissed Geordie pirates joining in the ‘DahdeDah’ nonsense chorus.

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Frequently they stand opposite each other grinning, dancing, head-butting and then proceeded to dance with their heads locked together like some kind of sisterly rutting play. Inviting The Staves back on stage to do an incredible cover of fellow Swedish starlet Lykke Li’s Hard Rain. This version again better than the original, and replacing the dour electro sounds with live vocals is an inspired move. Someone in the crowd shouts “Record an album together”, Johanna replies with “Perhaps we should, maybe a Christmas album”.

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Emmylou was as perfect as I expected it to be, faultless and completely blissful – we even had some serious crowd singalongs at the end. Last year they did this amazing acapella version of Ghost Town without the aid of microphones. There is no way they can repeat that here, so instead we have Nothing has to be True taking us into the encore. There are no false goodbyes, they just leave the stage and we all know they are coming back. The tour is called Rebel Heart, so we have exactly that, and as it is the 5th of November tomorrow, we’ll have an appropriate song Fireworks to follow. The encore isn’t finished though as My Silver Lining, their preferred encore for the last 2 tours, signifies the final farewell.

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There is a popular myth around sibling vocals being able to mesh together better and tonight we saw that in spades, it is probably more to do with years of singing together, perfecting the harmonies around the kitchen table. The Staveley-Taylor and Soderberg broods are both made of beauty and harmonious melody, pitch perfect and crystal clear. It’s great to see that the girls can perform together in congruence when we have so many brotherly rivalries abound in the music world. This was absolute heaven tonight and I doubt the goosebumps on the back of my neck will go away for some time.

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The Staves:

Hopeless / Next Time, Next Year / Tired as Fuck / Blood I Bled / Satisfied / The Whole of the Moon / Mexico

First Aid Kit:

Distant Star / It’s a Shame / Master Pretender / Stay Gold / The Lion’s Roar / You Are The Problem Here / Ugly / Hem of Her Dress / King of the World / Wolf / Hard Rain (Lykke Li cover w/The Staves) / Emmylou / Nothing Has to be True ENCORE: Rebel Heart / Fireworks / My Silver Lining 


The Staves: If I Was (released 2015) Sleeping in a Car EP (2016)

First Aid Kit: Ruins released in Jan 2018 – Try the albums ‘Stay Gold’ released in June 2014 and ‘The Lion’s Roar’ from Jan 2012.

First Aid Kit

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