Tuesday night, which happened to be before my Math 481 midterm (a fact I did not realize until I had already agreed to review this concert), Dessa and crew came to town. Though I had been looking forward to this concert for sometime, I had also been counting on Tuesday to study. I ended up choosing the concert, but I might live to regret this decision (in approximately a week, when I get the exam back).
When I got there, the first act was already well underway though the crowd was still sparse. The song I could hear James Gardin playing as I entered the venue struck me as generic and ugly, but the next few songs he played were much better. His songs are shockingly well-produced for a local rapper, featuring soothing beats and rhythmic choruses. The lyrics, much like his stage presence, feature uplifting verses and a message for unity in times of trouble. Although the audience was clearly not there for him, he succeeded in getting people interested and vibing to his music. Furthermore, his crowd interactions demonstrated excitement and compassion for his audience, which helped to start the concert off on a positive note. At one point, he asked for two volunteers to say a bit about themselves and then freestyled based on what they told him–and as someone not often impressed by freestyle, he did quite well.
The next opening act (and also Dessa’s backing band) was MONAKR. Their music served as an interlude between Gardin and Dessa’s rapping. Their lyrics were either softly sung or gently wailed, depending on the tempo of the song. At times, there were rapid and impressive drum beats dragging the songs along, but others were almost entirely electronic, built from varied sounds slowly coming to crescendo. Either way, the tone of their set was distinctly different, and chilled the audience to a certain extent. Their stage presence featured a few too many jokes about their name (for reference, it’s pronounced the same as moniker) and didn’t have a clear speaker (both the singer and the guitarist would attempt to speak at the same time) designated to talk to the audience. Still, I would definitely recommend checking out their sound.
Finally, there was Dessa. Her performance was upbeat and her songs simultaneously rocked and soothed, featuring rapping and singing and tightly produced melodies. In between songs, she was clearly a performer who loved her fans, and the words she said seemed to come from an open and honest place, as if she were writing in a journal and not speaking to a room filled with a couple hundred. Though she played old favorites, much of her set was spent testing out new material for an upcoming album (still unannounced), and as a fan, there isn’t much greater pleasure than these concert sneak peaks. Overall, Dessa navigated her performance and dialogue well, and demonstrated a love and passion for her work, one that she has for over a decade in an often unforgiving industry.