SAN FRANCISCO — U.K. garage pop and punk band Dream Wife was sugar and spice and acidic bite Tuesday at Cafe Du Nord, at its first San Francisco show.
Bassist Bella Podpadec, guitarist Alice Go and frontwoman Rakel Mjöll came out fighting like post-punk juggernauts from the first note of set opener “Hey Heartbreaker.” The band’s sound, driven by Go’s angular guitars, Mjöll’s Iggy Pop swagger and speak-singing and screaming, and Podpadec’s infectious grooves, was the perfect blend of sweet and bitter.
Dream Wife played up this dichotomy. Mjöll would smile wide, flip her hair and twirl, and then menacingly approach the front rows of fans and scream over their heads, as if ready to swallow her mic. Podpadec maintained the safe tuned-in expression for the show. She was a swaying, gyrating machine. And Go was the most intriguing of all, clad in vinyl pants, a tank top and wearing a pink and white surgical mask that covered her mouth, nose and all of her facial expression. She was impossible to read, and that was likely the whole, mysterious point.
Dream Wife’s set, all of about 45 minutes, covered the majority of the band’s self-titled debut record. The angular guitar on “Lolita” was akin to Franz Ferdinand or Block Party. Mjöll, in between screaming and sweetly singing, jutted her chin forward, as if picking a fight with those who dared to make eye contact. A couple of songs later, Dream Wife dedicated “Love Without Reason,” to the night.
“We love coming to the sweaty room, in a basement, in San Francisco,” Mjöll said.
The crunchy power pop of “Kids,” was an expected diversion, however brief. Like Dream Wife has become known to do, women (“bad bitches”) were called to the front for “Somebody,” which was dedicated to them. “I-am-not-my-bo-dy/ I’m some-body,” fans screamed along with the frontwoman at the top of their lungs.
“It doesn’t matter what you wore, it doesn’t matter how you look, it doesn’t matter how much you drank, it doesn’t matter if you remember—no means no,” Mjöll said.
“F.U.U.,” the best-known Dream Wife song, sounded like it was powered by a jet engine (thanks to Go) and came across as a lost Beastie Boys’ cut from the “Sabotage” era. Just as suddenly as the performance began, it was over following the blush-inducing “Let’s Make Out.”
Dream Wife was preceded by L.A.’s RUSSO, whose pop and alt-rock sound also had a biting edge to it.
Singer Cailin Russo dripped in swagger, and had the pipes to back it up. Guitarist Tyler McCarthy was a Tasmanian devil, spinning in circles, walking his head into a wall (literally), his mouth agape for pretty much the duration of his band’s seven-song set. Drummer Hayley Brownell was the band’s other energizer bunny, smashing away at complicated impressive drum fills, and this left bassist Sean Ritchie to keep the rhythm under control.
The band’s songs were party-ready anthems. Russo peacocked around the stage in a summer dress and strike poses with McCarthy on “Lonely.” On “Ghost” and several other tracks she stretched out her voice in the fashion of Gwen Stefani, one of her heroes. Russo introduced “No Time” as a “pretty chill” song, but it most definitely was not chill, beginning with the initial explosion of Brownell’s symbol crashes, and building from there.
Following the sweeter throwback jam “Joyride,” RUSSO ended with “Loudmouth,” “September Rose” and the tantrum called “Bad Things.”
“I get what I want,” Russo screamed over major chords.
Los Angeles quartet BTCHKRFT, selected by Dream Wife as part of an open audition to feature female- and non-binary-led acts, opened the show with a short set of noise garage rock and reverb-drenched post-punk, including highlights “Black Tongue” and “I Remember.” The four-on-the-floor jam “Heart Eyes,” meanwhile, included a fun tempo change that would appeal to anyone who listens to “Take Me Out” on repeat.