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Live review: Lykke Li at the El Rey Theatre

March 10, 2011 |  3:58 pm

Lykke Li emerged onstage Wednesday night at the El Rey Theatre in a cloud of smoke strafed from behind by blinking strobes. Columns of dark fabric, hung from above, further obscured the young Swedish singer, as did a billowy black top that made her physical shape difficult to ascertain. By the end of her first number, the smoke had cleared a bit and the stage lights had at least been switched on; you could tell she was surrounded by a five-piece band and was wearing leather hot pants.

But that was more or less the extent to which Lykke Li revealed herself during this curiously bewitching show. Her goal, seemingly inspired by ’60s-era girl groups, was stretching out romantic disillusionment into a kind of defensive unknowability, and she succeeded to the vocal delight of a capacity crowd.

A member of the same bustling Stockholm scene that produced Robyn, the Knife and Peter Bjorn and John, Lykke Li turned heads throughout Europe and in the United States with her cutesy 2008 debut, “Youth Novels”; among other things, it earned her a coveted spot on “The Twilight Saga: New Moon” soundtrack alongside the Killers and Thom Yorke of Radiohead.

To make “Wounded Rhymes,” her impressive new album, she relocated to Los Angeles, where her lack of a driver’s license resulted in an enforced solitude you can hear in the hollowed-out textures and proudly dejected lyrics. “Sadness is my boyfriend,” she sings over the “Be My Baby” beat in one fresh tune, “Oh, sadness, I’m your girl.”

At the El Rey, Lykke Li gave that stylized pathos a confrontational edge, pushing her voice beyond its kewpie-doll daintiness and toughening the go-go rhythms in “I Follow Rivers” and “Youth Knows No Pain.” Two of her accompanists took to the drums for the latter, while the singer herself bashed away at a cymbal near the end of “Dance, Dance, Dance,” from “Youth Novels.”

After that song she requested a whiskey from anyone willing to fetch her one, adding, “I was getting too hot to handle.” But heat wasn’t quite what she provided Wednesday, not even in slower, soul-influenced material like the new album’s “Unrequited Love” or “Possibility,” her haunting “New Moon” contribution. Lykke Li’s energy was colder and more scientific: She was finding out how much stress classic pop models can withstand before they begin to buckle.

-- Mikael Wood

Photo: Lykke Li performs at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles on Match 9 2011. Credit: Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times