Tove Lo (photo: Estefany Gonzalez)
“Some people say I came out of nowhere,” Tove Nilsson sighed, taking a moment to pause before the onset of the second half of her performance at The Fox Theater this past Wednesday evening. “But there was a long time where the only one believing in me was me.” Of course, the Swedish pop-mogul now goes by the stage name Tove Lo since securing, over the previous few years, a notable career both as a songwriter in the hit-singles machine and as a bona-fide front-and-center star herself. Beyond the smash-hits she’s penned for the likes of Icona Pop, Hilary Duff, and Ellie Goulding, Tove Lo has racked up an impressive iconography of her own from her initial breakthrough “Habits (Stay High)” to last year’s more understated but equally excellent “Cool Girl.” Her Bay Area tour stop in support of last year’s Lady Wood was a festive, yet bold statement that she intends to maintain her prominence in this industry going forward.
While her songs make undoubtedly excellent party music, they’re also deeply personal reflections on a life of uppers and downers and the inevitable come down that follows the take-up. Tove Lo’s catalog thus far is essentially a series of oscillating extremes; she paints the regrets after the fact as vividly as she details them in the moments when they’re still simply intuition. Yet while her submission to hedonism is far from romanticized, it still compelled me to want to make my own bad decisions. That’s because although we often see Tove Lo as dismissively numb in her songs, watching her perform live was to be taken in awe by her unflinching confidence in the face of self-destruction. I wanted to go out and ruin my following Thursday morning not because Tove Lo made the idea seem like fun, but because I was convinced it would make me more like Tove Lo.
The concert was loosely split into two halves, mirroring the Fairy Dust (i.e. “the high”) and Fire Fade (i.e. “the comedown”) sides of her sophomore album. It’s a more minimal project than its predecessor, her euphoric rush of a debut Queen Of The Clouds, but it was conceived with a far grander scope in mind. She wanted Lady Wood to be a visual experience, crafting an accompanying short film for the album alongside her hand-appointed creative director Tim Erem. The live interpretation similarly reflects this mentality — its highly cinematic opening with projected fire on a white backdrop before unfolding into a sparking set of all-encompassing lights that seemed designed for a music video shoot. Just observing the stage from below felt akin to being an extra in one of those videos, with the crowd of well-dressed Bay Area professionals and students always camera-ready for action shots of their hands soaring through the air or their drink cups held high.
The audience rarely wavered from their complete capitulation to Tove Lo’s spell. She’s a sensual performer — constantly rotating her hips, running her fingers up and down her body, defiantly stroking her crotch — but with a deft elegance. She comes across like the girl from your college who was impressive for improbably looking more composed when getting uncontrollably fucked up. There were times when I wished she had a couple more tricks in her arsenal, as the bopping bedroom eyes and body rolls did become a bit stale after a few songs in succession. She enjoyed the music much the same way we all did, but that meant you could look anywhere around you and see essentially the same performance taking place offstage.
Yet whatever was lost with regards to variety was inconsequential relative to the consistent potency of her persona. That experience opening arenas for Katy Perry and Maroon 5 has paid off, with Tove Lo a certifiable idol who commands attention wherever she stands. She was backed by a three-piece band that reliably held it down for the duration of the hour-and-a-half show, but I’m certain that a majority of the crowd forgot they existed by the second song. Tove Lo was the focal point, juxtaposed as richly and naturally fleshed out beside her trio of bandmates barley lit and draped in the cover of the magenta fog. However, even if rarely seen, their presence stood out during a number of momentary highlights, such as the disco lounge coda stitched on at the end of “Influence,” featuring ’70s funk guitars and a squishy synth line, or the soft-pop house beat they grooved on while Tove Lo took a break off stage at the end of “Talking Body.”
That brief interlude was broken by a solo performance of Lady Wood’s introspective centerpiece “Imaginary Friend.” Stripped of the pomp and gloss of the album-version, the song took on a reverent quality — with Tove Lo’s unadorned rendition acting as the climactic soliloquy for her to definitively prove her claim to the stage. “People said you’re not a superstar / Can’t jump that far / You know better,” she sang with poised determination. Just a few short years since she introduced herself eating dinner in the bathtub, Nilsson’s debunked any doubts of her capacity. By now, we all know better.
“The Way That I Am”
“Not On Drugs”
“Keep It Simple”
“WTF Love Is”
“What I Want For The Night (Bitches)”
“Habits (Stay High)”