Back in the early '90s, when MTV played video after video and I was still a kid, I remember seeing tall, hot chicks like Sarah Assbring, the sole member of El Perro Del Mar, flash across the screen, dancing to Axl Rose and Aerosmith. Taking the stage, Assbring immediately struck me as a rock video model, her bright blonde hair chopped off with a stiff asymmetrical edge, lips dark with black-red lipstick, and lids full of smoky shadow. I was immediately envious of her black silky jumper, stitched with an oversupply of fabric under the sleeves that made for the perfect raven wings whenever she lifted her arms.
The sounds of El Perro Del Mar are always sweet and shy, much like the musician herself. She said very little and smiled even less, and yet had me wrapped around her every breath. When she sang, her eyes focused intently on an unknown object in the back of the room, with her eyebrows at a constant downward angle. Often she would raise her hands into the air or send them straight out in front of the mic, nearly reaching the fans in front. She was intense.
Highlights were “A Change of Heart,” which was as delightful live as it is on Love is Not Pop, and “Gotta Get Smart.” After singing the lyrics to the breakup anthem,, Assbring posed a question to the crowd: “Have you ever had your heart broken?”
“Two times,” a man in the front row answered.
“Will you ever be able to love again?” she asked him directly.
“I already have…thanks to you.”
The crowd giggled and awed; Assbring blushed and started “A Better Love” almost immediately. Near the end of the set she covered The XX’s “Shelter,” giving the song a smoky, jazzy twist that continued to build and build until its rushing end. When the set finished, the crowd cheered and yelped, hoping that the double-headliner show would still allow for an encore. Assbring and the band returned, thanking the crowd for requesting their return with an ABBA-esque number, setting the perfect mood for Taken By Trees.
A multitude of drums and mallets filled the space with African beats, inviting Victoria Bergsman, the solo singer who takes on the name Taken By Trees onto the dark stage. After the first song finished and the crowd cheered, Bergsman’s wild eyes searched the room. A naughty smirk swept across her lips.
“I heard a wolf in the crowd and now I know where you are.”
In terms of energy, Bergsman’s songs were a stark contrast to El Perro Del Mar. Reminding of Lion King, with feel-good micro melodies galloping left and right, I wanted to dance and leap.
Bergsman dedicated a song to a dear friend, encouraged the crowd to clap, and consistently closed her eyes while she sang, often folding her hands in front of her. She was still and mischievous, always looking like she was planning her next cat attack.
Telling the crowd of her tour of San Francisco earlier that day, she explained that she was falling in love with the area.
“I’m thinking about moving here. Should I move here?” she playfully asked the crowd. Without a delay, the place burst into a mess of encouragement.