Little Dragon: Feed Your Inner Hipster

Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.

Little Dragon sounds like little you’ve heard before: if Google Translate could provide a musical interpretation of the word “quirky,” it would very likely be a Little Dragon instrumental.  Before that repressed hipster, which lies deep down in the heart of every Swattie, drives you to plug this band into Spotify, be warned — even though you normally revel in being too refined for the infant formula that we call the “mainstream,” you might quickly find yourself missing the comforts of “All About That Bass” and “Anaconda.” However, if somehow you manage to acquire the taste, Sweden’s very own will certainly leave you begging for more.

As they close out their North American tour with the West Coast this week, the memory of their evening at Union Transfer earlier this month remains fresh in the minds of those who attended. This year, the four-piece indie-electronica band from Gothenburg, consisting of Erik, Fred, Hakan, and Yukimi, released their fourth studio album. Titled Nabuma Rubberband, the arrangement represented a slight diversion from the instrumental eccentricity of earlier releases, although it subtly managed to keep the Little Dragon sound intact.

There’s a spontaneity to Little Dragon that I fell deeply in love with by the end of the night. Standing in the ethereal dimness of the venue, with two minutes to showtime, few knew what we had paid to hear. The setlist of their previous show had differed from the one before it, and so had the one before that one — as if the foursome sat down at lunch daily and wrote down whichever 17 songs called out to them the loudest. While there’s certainly beauty in a well-rehearsed show performed to practiced perfection (I’m looking at you, Ed Sheeran), these four exemplified the element of sincerity that those shows are missing.

Eventually the Shy Girls emerged to lift us from our perplexity. Although disappointingly not girls, the Portland outfit played an entertaining set, peppered with several beautiful soprano sax solos from their evidently multi-talented DJ.

After a lengthy silence followed by several minutes of electrified drumroll, the headliners began to take their instruments one by one. The sudden pandemonium that ensued when the frontwoman took the stage, seemed just as quickly broken by the first word she sang.

Yukimi Nagano, the larger than life personality with a priceless voice that many of us had previously only heard courtesy of Sony, Apple, and other assorted headphone companies, now took center-stage. Clad in a skirt of white furs, the singer, from whom the band jokingly takes its name, flowed through the first verse of “Mirrors.” Syncopated percussion gave way to heavier claps and the illumination of the beautiful neon laden set at the song’s climax, indicating that the show had finally begun.

Fears that a concert on the Nabuma Rubberband North American Tour would miss the group’s older gems, were quickly put to rest. “Please Turn,” a 2011 favorite, stirred up motion in the venue that didn’t subside until the night’s end. On vocal heavy songs like “Underbart,” the singer’s voice was a breath of fresh air–like mellow jazz, unmuddled by a backing track. Hitting every note with faultless precision while remaining the animated life of the concert, Yukimi proved everything one could want from a performer.

In more instrumentally driven songs, like “Test” and “Only One,” Erik, Hakan, and Fred simply stole the show. Quite possibly some of the most fun moments of the set came in the tangents, outros, and transitions that these three produced. In “Only One,” both vocals and instrumentals seemed to meet in an extra special way.

It isn’t often that you hear an audience clap before their favorite song of the night. But, if there was any solace to be found in the fact that the show was nearing its end, it lay in the knowledge that “Klapp Klapp” was still yet to come. As the album’s strongest single, and a superbly energetic piece of music, “Klapp Klapp” brought the night to its climax.

After “Klapp Klapp,” Little Dragon performed their swan song and said their goodnights. The Union Transfer crowd had none of it, beating down on whatever it could in hope of a repeat performance. Re-emerging for a lengthy encore, the band serenaded the city one last time with some of its early music. “Twice” and “After the Rain,”  to the exuberance of many of their long-time fans, paid tribute to their first release. When the mic was finally placed down for the second time, there was no question that it had all been left out on the stage.

As the curtain closes on the American leg of the Nabuma tour, the group now sets sail for Western Europe. Thereafter, many fans can only hope that they head home to Gothenburg, where work on their next release will soon begin.

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