Little Dragon Master Their Contradictions at New York Show - Rolling Stone
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Little Dragon Master Their Contradictions at New York Show

Swedish electronic group turn Terminal 5 into wild dance club and intimate lounge

Little DragonLittle Dragon

Little Dragon

Pete Monsanto

It is Swedish tradition, as one learned from Little Dragon’s Yukimi Nagano at New York’s Terminal 5 Friday night, that on the night before the first day of summer, it’s typical to “dance around and drink some Schnapps.” That the group chose to follow this statement with the mid-tempo dance number “Summertearz” over any of their more upbeat, party-friendly tracks said everything about the band circa 2014; a group willing to both upend musical expectations and move forward from their dancey 2011 breakthrough album, Ritual Union.

50 Best Albums of 2011: Little Dragon’s Ritual Union

The band’s sultrier new album, Nabuma Rubberband, was inspired more by, as the band has noted, “Janet Jackson slow jams” than the synth-pop of Ritual Union that became de rigueur on fashion runways and cosmopolitan, 1% afterparties. The question now was how they would blend the two disparate sounds together live; would the more solemn Nabuma afterparty threaten to displace the Ritual party?

The group opened the 90-minute set with Nabuma opener, “Mirror,” a minimalist, scene-setting track that reminded you that this was the same singer who, six years before Little Dragon’s debut, provided vocals to the Lynchian noir jazz of Koop’s “Bright Lights.” When the group followed with animated Ritual Union standout “Please Turn”  Nagano clenching her fists skyward, jumping aggressively and jerking her body in a way that looked more Ian Curtis than polished sophisticate  the group relished in their goofier side. (Also: See drummer Erik Bodin’s fluorescent, glow-in-the-dark flowers attached to his shirt.) 

With only three selections on the group’s 17-song setlist drawing from their first two albums  2007’s Little Dragon and 2009’s Machine Dreams  Friday’s show flitted between the intimate post-party hang of Nabuma Rubberband and all-in Eighties prom of Ritual Union. (Various lines of neon lights affixed to the back wall helped bolster the latter’s vibe.) It’s a tricky balancing act that usually worked, as Nagano is a compelling frontwoman who can do the Robot mid-song and downshift into chanteuse mode on title track “Nabuma Rubberband” the next moment.

“Ritual Union”  the happiest-sounding song about infidelity and the pitfalls of marriage  got the biggest applause of the night, while elsewhere, the band showered the crowd with blasts of confetti and hundreds of balloons dropping from the sky. And while the group nodded to their dance roots with extended versions of tracks and polyrhythmic, instrumental jams more akin to Sound Tribe Sector 9 than their dance peers, their last song was the mournful piano ballad “Twice,” about lost love. (“Tell me where would I go,” sings Nagano. “Tell me what led you on, I’d love to know.”) It’s the opening track from the group’s self-titled debut, but fits in perfectly alongside the nine Nabuma Rubberband tracks played tonight. Proof that while it’s enjoyable to Klapp Klapp to the fun songs, the party has to eventually end.

Little Dragon setlist:

1. “Mirror”
2. “Please Turn”
3. “My Step”
4. “Killing Me”
6. “Pretty Girls”
7. “Crystalfilm”
8. “Summertearz”
9. “Shuffle a Dream”
10. “Paris”
11. “Ritual Union”
12. “Klapp Klapp”
13. “Cat Rider”
14. “Only One”
15. “Nabuma Rubberband”
16. “Runabout”
17. “Twice”

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