Sharing a bill, a backing band, and the cramped stage of the Brattle Theatre last Friday, two Swedish singer-songwriters turned it up to the world-music equivalent of 11 for an audience that, for the most part, refused to dance.
El Perro Del Mar at the Brattle. Photo by: ANNE WERMIEL
Sarah Assbring and Victoria Bergsman — who perform, respectively, under the names El Perro del Mar and Taken by Trees — both seemed unnerved by the venue. Assbring, remarking on the strangeness of performing next to a giant backlit clock, sent marked glances at it throughout her set. Bergsman, after several minutes of full-on dance folk aimed at a largely inert crowd, remarked that the theater seats looked comfortable — "too comfortable." Only one dreadlocked couple heeded her first request to get up and dance; it wasn't until the second half of her performance that the front rows joined them.
Unwelcome fluorescence and audience inactivity aside, Friday's show had much to offer fans of indie singer-songwriters — Swedish, female, or otherwise. Assbring, who performed first, traded her once spare, haunting mope pop for a set that would have done Belinda Carlisle proud. Channeling Designing Women in parachute pants, a billowing tunic, and chunky gold hoops, she hopped and windmilled her way through her latest record, Love Is Not Pop (The Control Group). Her transformation was so total that she enlivened "Party," the signature dirge off her first record, with a jazzy backbeat, shimmies, and Wild Heart–era Stevie Nicks vocals. This speedy new style approaches David Byrne at his most frenetic, and it channels her idol, Lou Reed, in the defiance with which she holds her guitar. It suits her.
Taken by Trees was something else altogether. Bergsman's set began with an overlong music video of Pakistanis engaged in daily ritual. Potentially befuddling to anyone who didn't know that East of Eden, her most recent album on Rough Trade, was recorded in Pakistan with local musicians, the film seemed to pander to the NPR crowd. East of Eden's rhythmic, woodland folk is heavy on the psychedelic overtones, and Bergsman's performance was accompanied by trippy visuals. Footage of a foraging red panda paid tribute to her collaborator Noah Lennox (Animal Collective's Panda Bear); shots of Bergsman herself were appended to "My Boys," her fey, ebullient interpretation of Animal Collective's "My Girls."
Although many of them were just the usual stills of grass, sky, and flowers, the visuals were responsible for the one real doozy of the night. Bergsman dedicated her punny number "The Greyest Love of All" to her "furry friend" — who some audience members were disappointed to learn is her cat. Completing the dedication was a photo of tiny Sheba looking wistful in the high grass. Let it be recorded that for all the whimsy the hipster consensus may abide, people still laugh when a cheesecake picture of a cat is flashed before them.