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Recap: Niki & the Dove work through kinks during tour-opening show at Union Transfer

Credit: Sara Patrick

Malin Dahlström, lead singer of Niki and the Dove, reminds me of those bewitching gypsies you encounter in Parisian open air markets–slithering, blinding, majestic, and incredibly confusing in the way they keep you possessed by their particular alchemy. A mix of older Cyndi Lauper, new school Robyn, and the always present Stevie Nicks, her voice does strange things to the electronic soundscapes created by her band mate Gustaf Karlöf, making the icy tunes more human and earthbound without bringing them totally into the Earth’s orbit.

The band’s particular form of strangeness started the American leg of their tour in Philadelphia on Thursday night to a rather sparse, but still excited crowd at Union Transfer. Despite the showings of some early kinks that need to be worked out over the course of the tour, this was a gig that only confirmed the oddities that make this band so original and so…fucking weird.

Though the setlist was short, the duo filled the space with more than 80 minutes of music, including some improvisational intros and interludes to make the transitions into songs more exciting than just listening to pre-recorded sounds. “Mother Protect” was a great opening song that seems to slide its way to a start like a snake twirling around someone’s arm—that rhythm never ceases to be so sexy. The band did something of an extended mix of “Somebody” by using a vocodor at the end of the tune to lower Dahlström by about two octaves. Imagine Drake singing come-ons to you in the back of the bar–that is what it sounded like. And it was madly bizarre and awesome. A favorite tune of mine was “Last Night,” in which the song’s main characters get “married in a taxi.” In that spirit, Dahlström wore a floral headdress and rave lights–a huge “huh?” moment, but it all worked.

Creating a unique live experience as an electronic band (that is not just a DJ act) can be incredibly difficult—all the parts have to line up just right. Some of those pitfalls were on display at this show. Karlöf, in charge of programming most of the music, was in desperate need of a metronome in his ear early in the set. The sound was so loud at the beginning that I imagine hearing and keeping time was impossible, so every now and then his live drumming was a little rushed. Similarly, it didn’t seem as if the duo had all of their sound queues worked out entirely. Where most acts seem to know when to enter and exit a song intuitively, there were moments when Dahlström clearly relied on her partner to know when to begin a verse or stop vamping a chorus.

Despite those hiccups, it was impossible to say no to their brew. As they left the stage, to a sample of The Dream’s “It’s All Because of Nicki,” all I could think about was one song.

To quote the immortal Ms. Nicks, “you see your gypsy.” — Darren White

All photos by Sara Patrick

Niki & the Dove @ Union Transfer – Phialdelphia, PA – January 10, 2013
01 Mother Protect
02 Tomorrow
03 Somebody
04 Last Night
05 Gentle Roar
06 DJ, Ease My Mind
07 The Drummer
08 The Fox

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