Midway through her 75-minute show Monday, Lykke Li sensed that the sold-out crowd at downtown’s Theater at Ace Hotel had come to dance. She half-apologized for writing “a pretty sad album” — heartbreak is at the center of her third full-length “I Never Learn” — and after cheers rose for danceable tunes, Li was careful to point where in the show dancing would be acceptable.
It felt odd that an audience would crave that from an artist who has worked a vibe of introspection over three albums, gliding from folky roots into a ‘60s pop-and-psychedelia milieu with a distinct affinity for the sort of melody associated with her fellow Swedish pop stars.
Seven of nine songs on her new Atlantic Records album “I Never Learn” made it into the May 19 set, which began with the ethereal title track and closing with fat, echoey drums of “Sadness is a Blessing” from her 2011 “Wounded Rhymes”. Li, by and large, adds her name to a continuum that begins with the Shangri-La’s and Ronettes, pushing elements toward the light to achieve an ABBA-like brightness and elsewhere into a darkened corner of psychedelic swirls.
“Just Like A Dream”, “Gunshot” and “Never Gonna Love Again”, which would make perfect mid-tempo vehicle for an ABBA wannabe band, supplied the night’s brighter moments, all of them in the first half of the set. Her early hit “Little Bit” — the night’s most enthusiastically received performance — is now quite an anomaly among her other material: the bass rumbles instead of setting counter-melody; the organ is more church-like than a Vox or Farfisasound; and the drumming emphasizes the cymbals with a swinging low end that goes against the booming fat drums that drive so many of her newer songs.
Much as Li set a mood of contrasts early on with sweet melodies and melancholy lyrics, musical diversity commandeered the back end. “No Rest For The Wicked” was the one early track that forsook lushness for a dramatic bass and treble contrast; her final six tracks, beginning with the one acoustic ballad “Sleeping Alone”, explored the breadth of Li’s considerable talent as a singer and songwriter, taking listeners on a Gothic and druggy journey through “Rich Kids Blues” and “Youth Knows No Pain”, tempering the mood with a rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs.”
“I Never Learn”
“Love Out Of Lust”
“Just Like A Dream”
“No Rest For The Wicked”
“Never Gonna Love Again”
“Love Me Like I’m Not Made Of Stone”
“I Follow Rivers”
“Rich Kids Blues”
“Youth Knows No Pain”
“Du Är Den Ende”
“Sadness Is A Blessing”