With just two albums, Swedish pop group Little Dragon has twined strands of dance-pop and R&B into an imaginative brand of electronic music. Consistently layered, often buoyant, and most compelling at its darkest and most frigid, it’s a peculiar blend that has propelled the group from obscurity.
Little Dragon’s appearance at New York’s Bowery Ballroom last Friday confirmed that, unlike the growing mass of performers who spout over prerecorded tracks in concert, the quartet also wields the flexible and adaptive acuity unique to a bona fide live band. Pliable and engrossing, Little Dragon carved a vivacious arc for a nearly two-hour set. The band’s distinctly meticulous balance of sonics may not have been as consistent as it is on record, but Little Dragon’s opting for energy over layered depth proved a wise decision in a live setting.
Drummer Erik Bodin provided propulsion, guiding the grooves most visibly when the four-piece extended songs past their expected cut off points, which was often. “Blinking Pigs” and “Never Never” were among the most spirited and well-received numbers, treated with prolonged bouts of escalating improvisation. A few new songs from Little Dragon’s upcoming album surfaced, with one introduced as “Summertearz” (”…with a ’z’”) carrying an ominous tone familiar from prior works, but with a decidedly muddy, bottom-heavy throttle.
Just as with Little Dragon’s studio work, the peaks in the group’s performance owed mostly to vocalist Yukimi Nagano—the hub on which Little Dragon spins. Even if she wasn’t the only multiracial, half-Japanese member of an otherwise all-white, all-male Swedish band, Nagano would still be the most conspicuous element of Little Dragon in concert; rapt and gesturing purposefully when singing, bobbing and tip-toeing around the stage between verses or during extended jams, Nagano maintained a kinetic fluidity without once betraying her stoic façade, the pogoing crowd a barometer for her movements.
“Feather” found Nagano bouncing between its cavernous pops, but for the opening line she stood frozen at the front of the stage, dimly declaring “Rather be a bandit than a lover.” It was an intensity more fully realized by the set’s final song, the piano-driven “Twice.” Nagano’s is a voice that resists pinpointing, but Friday’s rendition of the song showcased a limber range and the absorbing power of her soulful low register; the sold-out mass packing the floor clung to her every line, as invested as Nagano herself. With a new album fast approaching, and based on Friday’s performance, the question facing Little Dragon would appear to be whether or not the band can surpass the encompassing and meditative “Twice,” which remains their definitive achievement so far.