Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Dessa - Live at the O'Shaughnessy

The O'Shaughnessy, at St. Catherine University in Minnesota, is a stellar theater environment with a balcony area that seems to extend upwards forever, giving most attendees a unique "looking down on the stage" view, as opposed to a standard balcony setting. I note this simply because it's a very different experience seeing a show from such an angle instead of the usual spot I occupy on the ground level of dirty hardcore venues.

Dessa's O'Shaughnessy performance was unique and once-in-a-lifetime type of event for a few reasons. First, this was the largest audience that the Minneapolis area superstar has performed in front of, having sold out the venue. Second, the show was a conceptual piece that fostered collaboration between various local artists to create compositions to be debuted at this show. And, lastly, it presented Dessa in a wonderful spotlight role, allowing her to showcase her down to earth personality and vast range of vocal talents.

The performance took on a three act structure with each act consisting of a duo of artists each performing a new solo piece, then performing a collaborative effort, followed by a performance from Dessa and her live band. The first duo to perform was Jeremy Messersmith and Cecil Otter. Messersmith is a local sensation who played his trademark singer-songwriter style on a tender new track, a duet with just him and his acoustic guitar. Otter, who is a fellow member of the Doomtree Collective with Dessa, followed with a short hip-hop piece leading into a song that Messersmith and Otter put together that showcased Otter's flowing verses and Messersmith's elegantly sung choruses.

Messersmith's and Otter's opening warmed the crowd enough so that when Dessa walked to the center of the stage, decked out in a sexy red dress, the crowd erupted as she made her way through some of the Castor, the Twin reinterpretations of her songs from A Badly Broken Code. Her live band gave the performance a lively and authentic feel that is often unable to be mimicked by pre-recorded beats. The audience was enraptured by Dessa as she proved how powerful of a leading lady she is as she commanded the stage.

The second act consisted of Aby Wolf providing a relatively tame indie-pop start, followed in stark contrast by Crescent Moon's emotionally heavy and aggressively performed solo composition. For their collaboration, they put together a playful number using simplistic beats, a catchy chorus and sly verses. I think it took the crowd by surprise in an unexpectedly great way.

Again, Dessa came back to the stage and weaved her way through her mastery of pop, hip-hop, gospel, and indie stylings, never wavering or shying away. Keeping things light, she also shared some brief banter with her band and kicked off her heels, performing barefoot and loving it. Throughout all three of Dessa's sets, it should be noted that Aby Wolf provided backing harmonies and accentuating vocal contributions that filled out the songs, giving them a flush, full sound.

The last collaborative duo was Black Blondie and Robert Robinson. The former started with an odd, almost Sleepytime Gorilla Museum-esque song that was at times grating, at times beautiful, and at other times just weird. Their performance was the only one that felt out of place. However, the entire audience forgot about Black Blondie the moment that Robert Robinson belted out the first notes of his solo song. His full-bodied, beautiful, gospel-styled voice filled the building with the sound of another age. It was so heart-warming to hear him fill the room with both his voice and his smile. The following collaboration between Robinson and Black Blondie further showcased Robinson's amazing voice while Blondie kept their oddness in check.

The final set from Dessa for the evening had her performing her most diverse set, showcasing a number of her strongest songs. Again, her blending of genres is something that should be propelling her on to expanded future fame. I wouldn't be surprised if she was filling venues this size throughout the US in the coming years. Her vocal range, agile tongue, songwriting chops, and stellar live performances all point to her commanding stages wherever she may venture. If you get the chance to take in one of her performances, don't miss it. You'll likely not find a more engaging show.

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