Niki & the Dove Thrill the Independent, 1/26/13

Jesse Tampa
Niki & the Dove at the Independent on Saturday.
Niki & the Dove
The Independent
Saturday, Jan. 26, 2013

Better than: Any hour of a DJ set on Saturday night.

Niki & the Dove are surprising. Their newest album, Instinct, released in 2012 after two years of music video promotion, is a perfect example of compact, danceable electro-pop. What they delivered to a sold-out Independent crowd on Saturday night, however, wasn't quite the same as what we've heard for the past two years.

So, compact, danceable electro-pop? Well, nine songs in 75 minutes isn't so compact. And the beats did drop -- with tremendous bass -- but there's something more complex and experimental to the music made by singer/pitch-bender Malin Dahlström and keyboardist/sequencer/beatmaker Gustaf Karlöf.

Jesse Tampa
There's the singular presence of Dahlström, who makes good on the Kate Bush/Stevie Nicks/Robyn comparisons. Emerging in a white jumpsuit, Dahlström is Niki. She cuts a figure straight out of an '80s adventure musical, like Jem or Buckaroo Banzai, two-stepping gleefully to Karlöf's beats. Her voice isn't quite diva strength, but her skill lies in both her humble but theatrical charm and her array of voice-altering pedals, controlled with a dual microphone setup that she wields masterfully.

It isn't just Dahlström that adds the strangeness to Niki & the Dove's dancefloor candy. Karlöf weaves together the live and loud percussive beats (there was a pair of drums next to his electronic equipment) with keyboard and sequencer lines, and the result lands somewhere between all-night Ibiza parties and Gothic ice cathedrals.

Jesse Tampa
This duality is an essential part of Niki & the Dove's intrigue. They know exactly how and when to seize the pop music lizard brain, and when to experiment. Take, for example, the sequencer/pitch shifting rave-up between "Somebody" and "Last Night." For nearly the length of one of their other tracks (closer to a studio-length four minutes than a live-length nine minutes) Karlöf drove hard, four-to-the-floor beats into the crowd while Dahlström pitch-shifted a refrain of "are you coming out tonight?" three or so octaves downward, two-stepping to the sound of her own cartoonishly monstrous voice.

Or take Karlöf's extended keyboard break in before the last chorus of "The Drummer," the group's best song. The first three quarters of the song roused the packed crowd to sweaty, dancefloor abandon without regard to chorus or verse, a spell the duo could have continued for hours. Instead, Karlöf shifted the mood to that of a head-nodding rock show, showing off his keyboard skills, which momentarily slowed the bouncing bodies. Then he dropped the beat once more, urging the crowd to a final climax.

Critic's Notebook

Civic pride: The duo commented on their newfound love for San Francisco between just about every song. "We thought that we loved it [before we visited], but now we realize that we do," Karlöf said. "We're stunned with San Francisco. In Sweden it is like hell."

The opener: While Philadelphia's Vacationer did a perfect opener's job in lifting spirits and loosening up the audience, the only notes I took say: "Real Estate meets Jason Mraz?" and "perfect candidate for Sprite Zero sponsorship." Their song "Dreamlike" wasn't half-bad, though.

Mother Protect
All This Youth
Last Night
Gentle Roar
DJ, Ease My Mind
The Drummer
The Fox

-- @longtimejerk

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