Dessa sells out the O'Shaughnessy, 4/20/12

O'Shaughnessy Auditorium, St. Paul
Friday, April 20, 2012

Whatever else Dessa may be -- Doomtree representative, rapper, singer, chameleon artist and all -- she is above all a sophisticated conductor and a woman with a vision.

Her sold-out show at St. Catherine's O'Shaughnessy Auditorium was much more than a solo-night. As Dessa explained it, the evening was a three-part act with one intermission and guest appearances from an array of Twin Cities favorites. Dessa asked a handful of artists to join her for this special concert as a sort of experimental showcase with somewhat unlikely pairings. 

The night featured collaborative efforts with several artists she digs, including Jeremy Messersmith and Cecil Otter, Alexei Moon Casselle and Aby Wolf, and Black Blondie and Robert Robinson. This has been her trend of late for her solo shows, from her blowout night at 7th Street Entry in December -- when she brought in electro-rockers I, Colossus, rapper Crescent Moon and his band Big Trouble, and comic Hannibal Buress -- to last January's 416 Commissions at the Cedar.

Dessa sells out the O'Shaughnessy, 4/20/12
Photo by Natalie Gallagher

The evening began with a short set from Messersmith and Otter, who each had a solo song and finished with a sort-of duet, with Jeremy on guitar and harmony in the chorus and Cecil controlling the verses and the beats. It was sweet -- not cute-sweet, awesome-sweet -- and was over almost too quickly, but damn if Jeremy Messersmith isn't one of the most talented male vocalists in Minneapolis.

The second collaboration saw Alexei Moon Casselle, AKA Crescent Moon, and Aby Wolf doing a freestyled "boombox" song, with Alexei rapping and Aby playing around on drum pads, her incredible mezzo soprano soaring. Alexei's verses punch through the air like attacks on a listener's ears, and he made for an excellent match to Aby, with her voice that can be as striking and sharp as talons or as graceful as a church choir.

Dessa sells out the O'Shaughnessy, 4/20/12
Photo by Natalie Gallagher

But the real magic of the evening came with Black Blondie and Robert Robinson, one of the Twin Cities' leading gospel vocalists, covering Otis Redding's "Try a Little Tenderness." Samahra and Robinson had the entire crowd singing along, cheering wildly, and standing on their feet by the end of the song, and nobody even saw it coming -- least of all Dessa.

"There has never been a headliner more delighted to have the show stolen," said the humbled artist as she appeared onstage once more after Robinson and Black Blondie had bowed out.

But regardless of that incredible offering, the night was still Dessa's. Dressed to kill in a very strategic little red dress, bright flower pinned to her up-do, there was no doubting who was in charge. Backed by her standard chamber band (Joey Van Phillips on drums, Dustin Kiel on guitar, and Sean McPherson on upright bass) and flanked by the immeasurably talented Aby Wolf once more on harmony and backing vocals, Dessa shifted expertly from fierce lyrics and destructive ballads to warm humor between songs.

"I was determined that this show would be the one where I played the adult all the way through," said Dessa as she slipped off her high heels two songs into her first set. She remained barefoot for the rest of the evening, and the way she conducted herself onstage made the sold-out crowd of 1,700 feel like a cozy living room gathering.

With this kind of fluidity, this ease and authority, Dessa is the sort of artist that makes it difficult for music critics. She stands out in her category; for as many female emcees setting a blazing trail, Dessa has something that raises her to a new tier. It's not her intensely intelligent rhymes, or her dynamic voice, or her sassitude. It's the fact that she can play ball with any musician, match their cockiness, and then beat them in a game of wits. And if the O'Shaughnessy was any indication, Dessa is just getting started.

Critic's Bias: It's real hard not to be a Dessa fan, guys. Not that I'm avoiding it.

The Crowd: Filled to capacity, from college youths and up.

Overheard in the Crowd: So many "I LOVE YOU!"'s. A few standard "MARRY ME DESSA!"'s.

Jeremy Messersmith - one song (?)
Cecil Otter - Little Demon Girl
Jeremy Messersmith + Cecil Otter - The Lament of Spock
Dessa Set #1
Dixon's Girl
The Man I Knew
Into The Spin
Children's Work
Alexei Moon Casselle - Broken Dishes
Aby Wolf - Rise Anew
Alexei Moon Casselle + Aby Wolf - new song
Dessa Set #2

Matches To Paper Dolls
Sadie Hawkins


Black Blondie - Insomnia
Robert Robinson- Working On A Building Of Love (Chairmen of the Board cover)
Black Blondie + Robert Robinson - Try A Little Tenderness (Otis Redding cover)
Dessa Set #3
Mineshaft II
The Chaconne
The Crow
?Sound The Bells? (new song)

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