Jeremy Messersmith at First Avenue, 2/22/14
Photo By Erik Hess
First Avenue, Minneapolis
February 22, 2014
Jeremy Messersmith's grandiose Heart Murmurs record release show at First Avenue is something he's been building towards for his whole creative life. The Minneapolis transplant's modest, acoustic-driven early work hinted at a scope and scale far larger, but his recent material demands a bigger stage. Messersmith got that and then some at his sold-out homecoming show on Saturday night. His 10-piece backing band -- including the Laurels String Quartet -- gave vibrant life to a career-spanning, 95-minute set showcasing his songwriting gifts.
Under a metallic heart backdrop reminiscent of the new album cover, Messersmith took to the stage with guitarists Peter Sieve and Brian Tighe, bassist Ian Allison, drummer Andy Thompson, keyboardist Sarah Perbix, percussionist Alex Young, along with the Laurels on strings. Jeremy eased into the show with a hushed, acoustic new song tentatively titled, "I Don't Trust That Boy."
The recognizable strains of Jeremy's Heart Murmurs single, "Tourniquet," instantly got the audience fully into it, and sounded massive in the Mainroom. "Knots" and "Dillinger Eyes" kept the strong start going, with the backing band adding lively layers to both. Throughout, the string section added an aching sentimentality to songs that were already steeped in emotion.
"This is a trip," he said early in the set. "I'm not going to lie, this is pretty freaking awesome." The well-paced set was a fluent blend of sprawling full band arrangements and more refined, tranquil moments where Messersmith carried the songs with his muted acoustic guitar strains and resonant vocals.
Photos By Erik Hess
A three-song run halfway through the show highlighted Messersmith's more austere material, as he delivered touching renditions of "I Want to Be Your One Night Stand," "Steve," and a stunning cover of Robyn's "Call Your Girlfriend," all augmented by the string quartet and the pastel contributions of Sieve and Perbix. The rest of the band took to the stage as "Novocain" blossomed majestically.
"Well, that was off of my first record from a long time ago," Messersmith said wistfully after the cheers for "Novocain" died down. "And this is from my second album, also from a long time ago." With that, the band delivered a reflective, poignant take on "Welcome to Suburbia." "It's Only Dancing" quickly followed, with Messersmith introducing the towering new number by mentioning how he was playing the first songs on each of his albums in a row during the set, giving fans a glimpse of not only how his material has evolved over the years, but also how good his songs were straight from the start.
An emotionally drenched outro on "You'll Only Break His Heart" had the entire band adding their own sonic flourishes to the tender track. Messersmith confidently proved he could deftly switch from one song style to the next, and that he can entirely silence a room as big as First Avenue in the process.
"Bubblin'" proved to be an undeniable standout of the set. The slow-burning track gradually blossomed into a jubilant release incorporating the supreme talents of the band. It was an exultant moment in an evening packed with them. After joking with the crowd about how being a musician is a lonely job in a way, and how he's much more used to being in tech support, Messersmith followed with "Hitman," which built to a grand, guitar-fueled release that ended the main set on a breathless high.
Photos By Erik Hess
The encore started tenderly, with both "I'm Gonna Love You to Pieces" and "A Girl, A Boy, and a Graveyard" augmented by the stately string section and Messersmith's affectionate lyrics, as the crowd sang earnestly. While introducing a vibrant version of "Ghost," Jeremy mentioned how the song was inspired by visiting his childhood home, but he graciously admitted, "I've lived in Minneapolis for 15 years, and it's my home now. Thank you for adopting me." A dynamic, Beach Boys-esque rendition of "Violet" gave the end of the encore a welcome spark, causing Jeremy to let his guard down while effusing, "I'm the luckiest motherfucker ever," as the crowd cheered him on.
Messersmith then dedicated a delicate, strings-soaked version of "Someday, Someone" to his intern Jordan, who got engaged at the merch table the night before. It was a warmhearted way to wrap up a celebratory two-night stand.
Photo By Erik Hess
Personal Bias: I've seen Jeremy perform many times over the years, typically in a solo setting (like his recent opening set for Daughter at the Fine Line back in May), but I've never heard him sound quite like THIS. Messersmith has been building toward this for his entire career, and these hometown shows delivered.
The Crowd: I thought the terrible road conditions might keep some people away, but it was a packed house full of respectful fans who were there to see and hear the music, not chatter away mindlessly.
Overheard In The Crowd: "I wonder where he gets his glasses from?"
Photo By Erik Hess
Random Notebook Dump: The hotly tipped local quartet Carroll delivered a stirring 35-minute opening set filled with new songs from their forthcoming album which they just finished recording in Philadelphia. Their older songs took on a textured, expansive tone which filled the Mainroom, as "Billionaire," "Out Here," and a hypnotic, exquisite version of "Lead Balloon" all soared, setting the stage well for the headliner. The group even gave a shout out to Conrad on his birthday, certainly earning some brownie points for when they return to First Avenue to surely headline their own show someday real soon.
I Don't Trust That Boy
I Want To Be Your One Night Stand
Call Your Girlfriend (Robyn)
Welcome To Suburbia
It's Only Dancing
You'll Only Break His Heart
I'm Gonna Love You To Pieces
A Girl, A Boy, And A Graveyard
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