After a major storm blew through uptown Minneapolis in June of 2013, people woke up to their digital clocks flashing, cars crushed by massive trees, and branches and leaves everywhere. Taking a walk around my neighborhood, it was surreal. When the power had been out for over 24 hours, still no one knew if it would be hours or days until it was restored. Cell phones were dying, coffee shops with electricity available were packed, and neighbors were meeting each other for the first time to ask for new information.
On the second day, I was home with the windows open. Our upstairs neighbor, Suzanne, began a conversation with a woman living in the building across the alley. I knew the voice of that stranger immediately. I couldn’t get a glimpse of her from anywhere in my apartment, so I patiently eavesdropped in my bedroom while they exchanged information—and finally, names. Suzanne introduced herself first. Then the low, rich, mature female timbre I knew so well from her music answered from across the alley,
I loved how the lack of available technology that weekend brought strangers in the same place together so intimately, initiating connections, introductions and experiences that would likely not have happened otherwise. Dessa’s music acts in much the same way. Yet somehow it has taken me almost five years and moving to a different city to see her perform live, at Bluebird Theater in Denver on May 2nd.
After opening the show with a great set, MONAKR came back on stage to be her musical support team, playing Dessa’s songs like they’ve been with her since day one of her career.
Dessa arrived to shrieks and cheers, a crowd full of fans from the Midwest and Colorado combined. Then this Minneapolis musician dove right in—got down low on stage, close to the crowd. She’s an animated songstress and rapper, moving up and down, back and forth with the beat and the mood of the moment. Her face is an open book, communicating as much with her expressions as with her sound.
Dessa started out with “Good Grief,” the crowd singing along, and performed many other favorites from her new album Chime, including “Boy Crazy.” She also included “Half of You,” which was part of a feature on an NPR about how she set out to isolate the parts of her brain responsible for romantic love. Later in the set, she read a poem of her own on stage to the thrill of the crowd, and grabbed a sip from the beer of a guy in the first row. The whole place was alive with her energy, even on the slower selections.
She straight up asked: “You guys wanna hear a sad rap song?” and the crowd cheered, all ears.
Taking a break to comment on Denver’s thinner air, Dessa pulled out her inhaler. She cracked a big smile, and turned to the band behind her. “I need some sexy inhaler music,” Dessa said, waving it around in her hand. And to some jazzy rock improvisation, she posed and took a deep breath. I was laughing so much I almost missed getting the shot.
Dessa works hard, plays hard, and gives recognition where it is due.
Speaking directly to her fans before she left the stage, she delivered a heartfelt thank you to her supporters for buying tickets and merch and following her and Doomtree along their journeys all these years. And to my delight, she ended with “5 out of 6,” a dynamic performance of “Fire Drills” and finally, her old fan-favorite, “Skeleton Key.”
Who wants to go see Dessa again? Raise your hands!
View the full gallery of photos below.
There has never been a better time to be in love with indie music and the musicians who create it. I write about and share what I discover because I find it difficult not to.