Word on the street — or really the radio, Hot 99.5 — was that Tove Lo was sick Monday night. But the woman born Ebba Elsa Nilsson made only one oblique reference to the situation in concert. And other than a voice that occasionally sounded a bit strained, Tove Lo was in fine voice and fine form at her sold-out debut concert at the 9:30 Club.
“You have no idea how much I needed this today,” Tove Lo said in response to the crowd’s wildly enthusiastic response after she performed her hit “Talking Body.” The Swedish electro-pop singer-songwriter occasionally banged on a drum during the concert, but mostly left the music-making to a four-piece supporting band on keys and drums. (There were two drummers, in fact.) Instead, she stuck to the mic and basked in the crowd’s warm reaction. ”You guys are on fire,” she said a few songs into her set. “I love it!”
That fire ignited at least a year ago for many fans of Tove Lo, who turns 28 next week. Previously seen in the region only at festivals — last year’s All Things Go Fall Classic at Union Market, this summer’s Firefly Music Festival in Delaware — Tove Lo has a cute, sweet demeanor and a charming, even understated stage presence — she sports a simple biker-chic look and performed half of the concert barefoot. But her music is even more raw and rousing, and her lyrics are edgy and unflinchingly honest. As documented on her bold concept album Queen of the Clouds, she sings about love and heartache and sex — especially the awkward feelings, numbing moments and self-destructive pleasures they provoke. And she regularly refers to love as a drug, extending the metaphor in ways that often clouds things just enough to leave the actual meaning open to alternate — literal — interpretation.
Many of Tove Lo’s most brazen lyrics have inspired her beyond song, showing up on the merch that was being sold at the show. There were t-shirts and tote bags emblazoned with conversation-starting phrases such as “Stay high” (as in “I gotta stay high all the time — to keep you off my mind,” from her biggest hit “Habits”) and “Charming as fuck.” (“On good days, I am charming as fuck,” she sings in her latest single “Moments.”) There was even a $5 “safety” kit that included bandages, a tiny “Charming as fuck” button and a condom encased in a matchbook with the picture from her album cover and the words “You’re not the one.” That’s a lyric taken from the dramatic “Timebomb,” in which she sings, “We’re not forever, you’re not the one. [But] you and I could be the best thing ever.”
Obviously, Tove Lo, like her influences Madonna and her compatriot Robyn before her, relishes being provocative — by dancing but not dancing around a hot-button subject like sex. “If you love me right, we fuck for life,” goes the impossibly catchy chorus of “Talking Body,” where she also plainly states her sex-positive m.o.: “Our baby-making bodies we just use for fun.” At the 9:30 Club, she briefly flashed her breasts to the crowd at song’s end. She also briefly, playfully grabbed her crotch a la Michael Jackson a couple times throughout the show.
All in all, she’s spreading the message of living in the moment, enjoying what you’ve got while it lasts. “We can run on love for a while,” she sang in the first of her two-song encore, adding the kicker: “Til it dies again.”
At the 9:30 Club, the love never died during the short and sweet show, which lasted just a little over an hour. And no doubt spirits stayed high long after everyone had gone home.
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