Dessa's Blowout night in the Entry, 12/6/11
"I was chatting with some reporters on the phone beforehand and they were like, 'What makes your show cohesive?'" Dessa said as she greeted the audience at the onset of her show at the Entry last night. "I was like, 'Absolutely fucking nothing.' I feel like I'm doing some Oprah's Favorite Things shit right now."
True enough, it takes a special ear to bring together the range of acts that Dessa did for her solo night during this Doomtree Blowout week. First openers were electro-pop rockers I, Colossus, and the three-piece ensemble was probably the last thing expected at a rap show. At the first song, with I, Colossus' deftly arranged electronic melodies and textural guitar layers, the purists in the audience were giving each other grand looks of skepticism--only to be undone by the second song, as the catchy, irresistible tunes gave way to swaying bodies and nodding heads. Lead singer (and guitarist/keyboardist/producer) Matthew Sandstedt has a voice that's only a sliver shy of falsetto--interesting, and incredibly high, kind of a like a music robot on speed. I, Colossus has the same high energy and electronic savvy of the Unicorns with the good pop sensibilities of Matt & Kim, but their set was full of songs that had an original compositional intelligence that went beyond the pop standard.
The second set of the evening came from Crescent Moon is in Big Trouble, a.k.a Alexei Moon Casselle and one of the Twin Cities' most versatile and talented bands composed of Sean McPherson (bass), Peter Leggett (drums), Steve McPherson (guitar), and Josh Peterson (guitar). As an MC, Moon's delivery is effortlessly smooth. He's got a canyon-deep, gravel road-dirty voice, and when his real life verses get semi-political, he sounds like he could be the narrator for the post-apocalyptic world history. His raps ask listeners questions that make them question themselves, and besides that, he's got an on-stage intensity that burns visibly--Moon roams the stage, shakes himself off, like he's stalking something inside himself and pulling it up for the audience.
Photos by Nick Wosika I, Colossus
Dessa, ever the gracious host, introduced each act between set, and third opener, the New York City-based comic Hannibal Buress, seemed to bring her special pleasure.
Photos by Nick Wosika Crescent Moon is in Big Trouble
"Booking Hannibal is like having a really hot sister," smiled Dessa slyly. "Everybody wants to talk to you really bad so they can talk to someone else."
Hannibal Buress is undeniably one of comedy's hottest rising stars, his career so far including writing for SNL, 30 Rock, and being featured in Comedy Central's the Awkward Comedy Show. Buress does the sort of comedy that relies mostly on charisma and timing rather than brilliant material--not that the material is lacking (far from it), but that his charm (or maybe not charm, maybe the better word is still "charisma") is as much a part of his act as his jokes are. His set topics ranged from the awkwardness of "dating" crazy girls, jaywalking in Montreal, and masturbation hoodies, with plenty in between, including an interesting bit when Hannibal was interrupted with some annoying girl in the back demanding a narration on some lost story arc. It's always a good time when a performer gets real with an audience member and schools them in audience etiquette.
But the real star of the evening, of course, was Dessa, who, at this point in her career, needs no introduction by anyone. She took the stage with her live trio and longtime back-up singer Aby Wolf, in control of everything; she has a way of taking up all the extra space in the room with a single gaze, so much so that her mic might as well be a scepter. Is it redundant at this point to use words like haunting, cerebral, and beautiful to describe Dessa's music? It seems sometimes that journalists have run out of words for the talented MC--she is a far better wordsmith, after all.
Photos by Nick Wosika Hannibal Buress
Still, her set last night at the Entry was a lot like going home, seemingly for both the band and the audience. Her recent release, Castor, the Twin, featured reworked arrangements from her first full-length record A Badly Broken Code, and it provided fans with a chance to remember that not only is Dessa an massively talented rapper, she's also a massively talented singer, hitting and holding notes so stunning they'll make you cry. On stage, she is a focused amoeba of intensity, and even when she deferred the spotlight--mid-set, when Aby Wolf had a song--all eyes remained on her.
It was all the heavy-hitters last night--but then again, isn't it always with Dessa? She doesn't do things lightly. The crowd knew all the words to all the songs, could chant them in their sleep (probably did). And when the encore came, and Dessa, solo, delivered a seamless spoken word piece interlaced with a cover of "Hallelujah," the crowd at first shut up, and then joined in, softly, singing "Hallelujah" with her like some makeshift, accidental choir, like the Entry suddenly became a church and for just a moment we all had the same religion.
You can probably guess what that religion was.
Photos by Nick Wosika