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SASAMI Live at The Mill

by Gabby Estlund

SASAMI at The Mill Photo by Gabby Estlund

SASAMI at The Mill
Photo by Gabby Estlund

Upon entering The Mill, one of the first people I saw was Sasami herself. She was setting up her merch display, which was quietly tucked into a corner just outside the stage area. I introduced myself as “the person who talked to you earlier this week!” She outstretched her hand, and we shared a smile

Condor & Jaybird at The Mill.  Photo by Gabby Estlund

Condor & Jaybird at The Mill.
Photo by Gabby Estlund

The back room of The Mill is not large, so naturally there was an air of intimacy as show-goers filed into the old wooden booths and tables. I slid into a booth aligned with the center of the stage -- the perfect view. Like The Mill itself, its stage was intended for an intimate gathering, perhaps only 20 feet wide and across, and 2 feet tall. Black and red snakes of cords rested precariously in the spaces between equipment. Various shining guitars and basses in red and white and deeply-stained wood perched near amps and drums, waiting to be played. In the minutes before the opener for Sasami, Condor & Jaybird, took the stage, the low murmur of attendee chatter and occasional outburst of laughter from employees behind the bar tumbled around. The loudest noise in the room was a soundtrack playing as background, making the green-glass-covered bulbs in the ceiling fans jitter in anticipation. It was nearly time.

Finally, the lights fully dimmed. Condor & Jaybird took the stage and blew me away. Insane guitar riffs by Jaybird shattered the quietness in the room. Goosebumps sprinkled my skin, and I knew this was going to be good. In between their songs, Condor & Jaybird spoke to the crowd, with Condor stating, “If you hated it, I want you to come up to me after the show and tell me to my face.” They knew how to make the audience laugh and broke down the wall between performer and watcher. Their bodies told stories of their past as they squirmed to the flow of their music. They embodied the fluidity of their instruments’ sounds, and Condor’s gloriously grotesque expressions as he belted out long notes made it impossible to tear my eyes away. After about 5 songs, the duo finished their set, and the room was electric with musical energy.  

Sasami Ashworth at The Mill Photo by Gabby Estlund

Sasami Ashworth at The Mill
Photo by Gabby Estlund

After a brief intermission, Sasami graced the stage in a drapey piece of semi-transparent white clothing that resembled a dress. Underneath, she wore a black tank top and black shorts, with tall socks and funky Doc Martens. Red eyeshadow emblazoned her lids. To begin, she looked down for a several minutes. Multicolored string lights wrapped up the poles of the two microphone stands. Her drummer and bassist wore matching bright-red jumpsuits with gold sparkling accents. They each spent a few moments re-adjusting their instruments; the bassist swung a cord to the other side of their body, the drummer scooted their stool a few inches left. Sasami tuned her guitar, and the first thing from her mouth was: “Alright, I’m gonna keep my eyes down while I tune my guitar, and when I look up, you’re all gonna be in front of me. Do it.” The audience exchanged hesitant looks, but emerged from their darkened sitting areas to stand in the area in front of the stage, now under the same lights that shone harshly on Sasami. Just like the musicians, the audience was now vulnerable under the scuntity of light. That’s exactly what Sasami wanted.

RELATED: Estlund’s interview with SASAMI

She made it clear that she did not care about it being an all-ages show, making sarcastic comments after her first song. “How we doin’ tonight, scalliwags?” She drew out the last word, deepening her voice and hanging onto the vowels. “I tend to use that word when it’s an all-ages show, rather than ‘c**t’ or ‘s***bag.’” The tension in the crowd began to melt away and even the few white-haired, older people chuckled. Sasami also mentioned that she was hungover from her going out the night before, but that “we didn’t hear that, because it’s an all-ages show.” Her humor and sassiness made her seem more approachable to the college-aged majority in her crowd. Once she began, Sasami effortlessly flowed from heart-wrenching, melancholy moments, to aggressive singing and knees-on-the-floor guitar solos. 

The atmosphere in the room turned dream-like as she drifted into “Free.” Her eyes slid closed, and her tone turned gentle.I don’t care what tomorrow brings / Dreamin’ up some awful things / ‘cause our time is running out.” The crowd slowly became more interested, bopping their heads to the catchy tunes and beginning to move their bodies to the beats. Next up was “Callous,” a beautifully painful story of loving someone too much. When the song came to an end, Sasami demanded to be looked at, holding her hand in the air and her head tilted up, eyes closed, while the final guitar note ate up all the space in the room.

When she dropped her hand and opened her eyes, the crowd cheered and clapped with admiration for the rawness in her performance. She delivered her life’s good, bad, and ugly experiences through song, and didn’t sugar coat it; she wanted you to feel everything she had already gone through. It brought me back to our phone interview a few days prior, where she said her goal with each show was to amplify the emotions in the room. 

SASAMI dueling with bassist Photo by Gabby Estlund

SASAMI dueling with bassist
Photo by Gabby Estlund

She then moved into “Jealousy,” in which Adrien, her bassist, and herself started dueling with their instruments. In an invisible tug of war, Sasami bombarded Adrien’s half of the stage, staring directly into their eyes as she came closer, nearly forcing the bassist to fall. Then, Adrien repeated the gesture with just as much vehement energy, and Sasami broke character for a moment to swipe a small smile across her face as they both kept singing. They each returned to their original positions to face the audience. Evolution systematic / Individuals consider it tragic / Jealousy, jealousy, jealousy, jealousy. With each repetition of the word, Sasami’s haunting voice climbed higher and higher. She was hypnotic and weird, and she embraced it fully. When she finished, she lightened the mood with another off-the-wall remark: “I didn’t know there were this many people in Iowa City. I’m honestly flabbergasted ... and have gas.” 

Just as quickly as she made her presence known, it was time for the show to end. “We have just one more tune for you guys. I can’t believe it’s already over. Maybe we’ll just play this one super slow!” The drummer and bassist jokingly started their final song at a painstakingly slow rate, giggling the entire time. Sasami nodded her head, and they took off again at the actual pace. She ended the night with, “Fuck yeah Iowa City. Thank you so much.” 

And just like that, my time in Sasami’s circle was over. I had the pleasure of getting to interview, meet, and watch someone so wise, weird, and themselves, all in a week. Sasami Ashworth is a strong voice for people my age -- in college, trying to figure themselves out and learning to accept life as it happens.