Jeremy Messersmith's Muse for Music at Fitzgerald, 5/19/12

By Allegra Oxborough

Jeremy Messersmith's Muse for Music
With P.O.S. and Chastity Brown
The Fitzgerald Theater, St. Paul
Saturday, May 19, 2012

Jeremy Messersmith was his dapper self Saturday in a fitted green blazer and his conspicuous Buddy Holly specs. Behind him an ever-changing configuration of seven or eight musicians played tightly and impressively throughout the evening on percussion, strings, piano, organ, french horn, trumpet, guitar and bass. The crowd, guided in by ushers to theater seats, was surprisingly reactive, loud and involved.

Under the loosely defined theme of the night, "Muse for Music," it could've easily been the influences to Messersmith, Chastity Brown, and P.O.S put on display. Instead, our headliner shared brief origin stories for the handful of his songs he played, and filled out the rest of the night with a collection of songs he has "always wanted to cover."

After he finished a song, comedian and writer Dave Mondy entered the stage and offered a small piece of knowledge (for example, on the origin of the word "muse"). Then Mondy and Messersmith bantered with a half-scripted backstory of the impending song, eliciting audience laughter and cueing the music. Mondy stretched to weave a story between Jeremy's song picks, often awkwardly (like attempting a smooth transition in five songs between "'Happiness is a Warm Gun'was a magazine headline,"  to "The XX write their lyrics over e-mail").

The audience seemed to know and love almost every cover. So the real tie between song choices was accessibility. And, while he went to a darker, heavier musical place to capture "Idiotheque" by Radiohead, Jeremy messersmithed most of the songs into his trademark sweet, songwriter style. With "Maps" for example, he and the orchestra dropped the build and passion present in Karen O's arrangement, making it a slower, safer piece.

 As Chastity Brown situated herself on stage she asked the audience to imagine, first, "pickin' and grinnin' on the front porch," then "a long drive on a back road." Not that we needed the suggestions; most of Chastity's music evokes those sort of archetypical country images. She played a heartfelt two songs from her recent album and then, what she described as a musical and artistic departure, "Ritual Union" by Little Dragon. The song -- down to the lyrical hints of Christian traditions -- didn't actually feel like that much of a departure for her.

A few moments in the show strayed from predictability and exposed some unscripted rawness. Like when, in response to Dave's provocation, Jeremy defended his genuine love of Star Wars. "I don't know if I loved anything as much as I loved Star Wars when I was a kid. It was kind of my Sci Fi Bible." While the audience hollered in support of this, Dave admitted "I can understand that." He quickly mentioned that he grew up Christian and, as an adult, has revisited the ideas that were in his bible.

 Jeremy illustrated his love of Star Wars with his song "Tattooine" and later in the show, Dave told one of his MPR stories (The Thing About Jesus That No One Will Tell You) in which humor was punctuated by a revealingly intimate and tender look at his love of Jesus.

In the second half, Mondy introduced P.O.S. as someone who "fits in perfectly" to a night of genre-exploring, because of his background in punk and hip hop. So it was a surprise when the rapper came out beaming in a clean three piece suit and sang (didn't rap, didn't scream) two covers. He tested out a voice that he almost never exhibits publicly, first on "Metal Detektor" by Spoon and then in a slow, sexy version of "I Wanna Be Your Lover"by Prince. For anyone who has seen P.O.S. in his almost infallible rap performances, the fact that he didn't quite hit a couple of high notes was incredibly authentic and endearing.

While we didn't learn who planted every seed of inspiration in these growing local songwriters, the audience seemed more than satiated. And we can assume that some time soon, in a recording booth not far away,  MPR will give its audience another chance to  know Messersmith, his friends, and all his muses.

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: A few songs into the show I started a list of "Things Current Listeners Like." After "jokes poking fun at 91.1 listeners," I noted "familiarity, predictability, comfort."  I think most want to take pride in our hometown boy and stand in line for the bathroom during intermission saying things like (I quote), "I love his voice! I love the music," and "Good band!" and "Wasn't that Star Wars one great!?" The Current promotes music I can talk about with my aunt-by-marriage at my sister in-law's wedding shower--material that is relatable, recognizable and solid. And that's pretty much what last night's audience got.

Overheard: A girl behind me squealed "He is such a cutie!"

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