"This is 'Not on Drugs,'" said Tove Lo, introducing one of her songs late Thursday night at the Belmont club here. "But that's not true."
Known to American fans for her top 5 electro-pop hit "Habits (Stay High)," this Swedish singer first found success writing tunes for acts such as Girls Aloud and Icona Pop. And though she's concentrating on building her name as a performer -- she's booked for multiple shows at South by Southwest -- she hasn't lost her sharp word sense: "Queen of the Clouds," Tove Lo's slyly radical 2014 debut, addresses standard pop-song topics like sex and heartbreak with atypical frankness; more importantly, it does away with the hand-wringing that so often in pop accompanies the pursuit of female pleasure.
Appearing at the Belmont as part of an Island Records showcase, the singer was gleefully unabashed from the get-go, opening with "My Gun," in which she commanded a lover to "rip off your clothes for me"; later, she turned that demand toward her audience, asking fans to throw their shirts at her during "Talking Body." (Five or six followed through.)
In "Moments" she promised, "I love freaks / I don't care if you're a wild one." And "Habits (Stay High)" had a swagger that belied the song's lyric about reeling from a breakup. It suggested she'd found a way to move on.
You got a similar idea from Bethany Cosentino of L.A.'s Best Coast, which played one of its nine scheduled SXSW gigs earlier Thursday at the Palm Door. Though she's spent two albums writing about the kind of romantic devastation that can leave someone unable to do anything (as she describes it in "Crazy for You"), here Cosentino seemed to rise above that turmoil with help from a noisy but newly polished version of her once-tentative group.
Wearing a Fleetwood Mac T-shirt and a trucker cap she said Sam Hunt gave her, the singer blazed through oldies like "Last Year" as well as a handful of cuts from its upcoming record, "California Nights." In the best of those, the '90s-shoegazey "Heaven Sent," she proclaimed her infatuation with another somebody capable of making her lose her mind. But she wasn't spinning out; she sounded fully in control.
We’re at South by Southwest until March 22. Join us at latimes.com/sxsw for ongoing coverage of the festival.