What a blissful night of heavenly Swedish musicians! Last Monday at Schubas was loveliness personified. Not only was it Sarah Assbring’s (El Perro Del Mar’s) triumphant return after way too many months away from Chicago (I swear I aged ten years just waiting for her to come back in these past 12 months…) but it was also a glimpse of some other Swedish musicians for many fans. The interest in Lykke Li was definitely piqued as she was recommended by the Chicago Reader but Anna Ternheim had a subtle grace and beauty that drew many people in from even neighboring cities who jumped at the chance to see the Swedish beauty in such a perfectly intimate setting.
Starting the night off, Anna Ternheim used some samples but overall played a much more stripped down version of some of her songs than the way they appear on her album Halfway to Fivepoints in which there is more of an orchestration presence. Anna reminded me a bit of fellow Swede Frida Hyvönen at times though overall she seemed less vulnerable. Of course, playing solo in a more stripped down setting alternating with her guitar and keyboard made me think of the similarities between the two easier than when listening to their recorded material. In any case, Anna had a certain peculiar elegance even when wearing an oversized striped shirt. Her style may have been understated but it certainly left an impression.
Lykke Li, in contrast, was a bit flashier from the get go. Coming out in a jacket full of sequins and backed up by a full band, she moved and shaked with much more intense energy. The arrangements of the songs themselves were very strong and engaging, besides being so much fun, but it seemed to be missing the emotional level garnered by Anna Ternheim. Having Sarah Assbring come on stage and sing a couple of songs with her helped but ultimately, I longed for the loveliness of El Perro Del Mar that I had been waiting so long for.
Of course, I was not to wait for too long. Sarah emerged, as her her usual, looking like she could be the beautiful female lead in a 1930s silent horror film. She’d be the girl that tempts the vampires…that drifts up and down grainy black and white staircases without her feet ever showing. She opened up the set perfectly with “Party” and “Dog,” two of my favorite songs and, though she didn’t play “This Loneliness,” I enjoyed the entire set immensely. Touring to support her newest album, 2008’s From the Valley to the Stars, this time around her time in Chicago seemed a little less bleak (an audience member even asked Sarah if he could dance on the stage while she sang!) Though this did seem out of place, her backing band really did seem to remove a sense of total despair or the anticlimactic feelings that come from hearing lyrics like “Come on over baby there’s a party going on” being sung so sadly. Of course, the only major downfall is the shortness in sets that she tends to favor. This time, it was longer but I'm still pretty sure she was only up there for under an hour. Let’s hope Sarah doesn’t stay away too long before coming back next time….