Touring on the back of last summer's Nabuma Rubberband, the Gothenburg quartet headed up by inimitable vocalist Yukimi Nagano have continued to sonically jumble pop, electronic, R&B and occasional Prince-infused flourishes into their now fairly substantial catalogue and have let their audience find them as opposed to consciously seeking out the mass appeal they could easily garner. While this night (May 31) proved that many of Little Dragon's tracks remain eminently danceable and engaging in a live setting, few tracks are equipped with sing-along hooks and song titles being repeated ad infinitum in the chorus, instead rewarding attentive listening and close reading of Nagano's lyrics. And one gets the sense that's just the way they like it.
Taking to a stage equipped with various illuminated diamond lights to a packed audience at the Danforth Music Hall, the band's bearded keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand was soon joined on stage by bassist/keyboardist Fred Wallin and drummer Erik Bodin and eventually, Nagano, with multi-coloured sartorial flair, as they launched into Nabuma Rubberband's brooding track, "Killing Me."
Nagano's mesmerizing stage presence in live shows has long been a major draw to the band, and on this night, it didn't disappoint. At a 2010 show at Wrongbar, Nagano had the comparatively intimate crowd transfixed with her every mysterious move, making continuous and direct eye contact. Here at the Danforth Music Hall, Nagano's connection with the audience and theatrical tambourine-assisted dance moves — often punctuated by Bodin's percussion — remained intact and even more refined in their translation to the larger venue. Given the unfortunate muddy mix of the sound that buried the finer points of Nagano's vocals and lyrics and the minimal in between song banter (which consisted mainly of Nagano cajoling the crowd into dancing), her non-verbal actions took on added importance.
After warming up with notable tracks like recent single "Pretty Girls" and "Little Man," which featured the seemingly reserved Wirenstrand vacating his keyboard spot to bang out on Bodin's drums, things noticeably shifted into direct dance mode on Ritual Union's hypnotic "Summertearz," by which time Wallin had dispensed with the dark blue blazer he'd arrived on stage wearing. And when the group reached back to their self-titled 2007 debut for the offbeat funkiness of "Constant Surprises" and dovetailed it into a "Brush the Heat" coda, there was nary a stationary punter in the place.
After maintaining the vibe for a few more songs, the distorted keyboards of the self-explanatory "Klapp Klapp" indicated to the crowd that things were going to be taken to a higher level. And they were, literally. Bodin climbed above his drum setup with his arms raised high before jumping down to play at the song's climactic end point. Afterwards, "Only One," from the new album, allowed every group member his or her own spotlight. Nagano's barely accompanied plaintive vocal was the focal point for a few minutes, yet soon after, the song was infused with house music influences. Onstage, the album version was teased out with extended solo workouts from the band members after Nagano exited the stage to what was ostensibly the night's last song.
But the inevitable encore found Nagano and the band returning for three more songs. After the chime-flecked "Nightlight," "Ritual Union" had Nagano soliciting the audience's direct involvement in singing the chorus to one of the group's most immediate songs. The release after waiting for this track in particular was palpable in the crowd, and there was a similar feeling when the affecting ballad "Twice" (maybe the closest thing to a bonafide hit single the group possesses via various TV licensing placements and being covered by artists like Lianne La Havas) was finally delivered to end the show. Little Dragon undoubtedly gave the crowd what they wanted, but also delivered it on their own terms.