Little Dragon sound as good as they look at First Ave

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Yukimi Nagano of Little Dragon Facebook

With simmering beats and an abundance of outlandish wardrobe choices, Little Dragon captivated the First Avenue Mainroom over the course of a 90-minute set at the last night, their positive vibes keeping their fans in reverie.

The Swedish electro-pop four-piece owe their dedicated following as much to their recent guest track appearances as to the five albums under their own name. But this show expelled any lingering doubt that they’re better suited to collaboration than taking the spotlight for themselves.

As the band opened with “A New,” from their 2009 album Machine Dreams, vocalist Yukimi Nagano entered in a resplendent outfit that combined a draping, sequined coat with and some sort of futuristic veil. The long, sheer scarves she’d tied to each wrist magnified her every gesture, and her chunky mirrored sunglasses couldn’t hide how much fun she was having.

Nagano was a magnetic force as she crisscrossed the stage, striking warrior poses, shimmying, even throwing in a slo-mo running man. She brandished a woodblock mallet with the swagger of a taiko drummer, contributing back-up percussion. She was flanked by Erik Boden on drums, Håkan Wirenstrand on synths, and Fredrik Källgren Wallin on bass and keys. These bearded bandmates held their own sartorially with shiny tunics and black-lit polka dots.

The set skipped across their last four albums and skewed uptempo with standouts “My Step” and “Summertearz” working the crowd into a joyful dancing mass. When Nagano spread her arms wide, her sparkling coat resembled butterfly wings that pulsed in time with the beat. She kept the front row entranced, offering high fives and shaking her tambourine like a bedazzled priest sprinkling holy water. While there were plenty of midriffs on display in the crowd, this show would’ve been better suited to a weekend night when Minnesotans are more apt to cut loose on the dance floor.

The show’s momentum faltered during some of the comparatively flat cuts from Little Dragon’s latest full length, Season High. Plodding beats on “The Pop Life” and “Strobe Light” tested my tolerance for electro jams, but Nagano proved her stage presence can rescue an audience from any drum solo or synth battle. During “Strobe Light,” an overlong instrumental interlude provided the perfect opportunity for Nagano to toss yet another sheer scarf over her head and to strike a ghostly silhouette.

The band’s playful exuberance served the dance songs well, as Nagano’s airy voice soared above the slow burning synths. When it was time to slow the tempo, a white curtain served as a backdrop for simple projections. During “Feather,” images of wintry plumage filled the screen, while “High” received an similarly literal treatment with the words “little dragon” appearing and disappearing in smoke.

After ending the first set with a raucous singalong to “Ritual Union,” Little Dragon didn’t keep their fans waiting long for an encore. The last four songs of the night dug deep into the archives with three cuts from their debut self-titled album. The band stepped out from behind the multitude of keyboards and clustered at the front of the stage with just a drum pad, accordion, and acoustic bass. “Constant Surprises” and “After the Rain” proved just how much this band can do without all the electronics. Little Dragon cut to the quick with a moving rendition of “Twice,” tapping into the melancholy undercurrent of their lyrics without diminishing the good vibes that had dominated the night.

Setlist

A New
Sweet
My Step
The Pop Life
High
Pretty Girls
Summertearz
Shuffle a Dream
Feather
Strobe Light
Ritual Union

Encore
Constant Surprises
After the Rain
Klapp Klapp
Twice


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