View From the Front Row, 5/7/11
Let the May onslaught of View From the Front Row posts commence! Last night, I went and caught Dessa's "Into the Spin" tour, featuring Sims & Lazerbeak plus Sister Crayon at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. This was a special show for a number of reasons... It was part of Dessa's first headlining tour, it was the first time Dessa showcased her live band from Minneapolis in the Bay area, and it was at my favorite venue Bottom of the Hill, which happened to be packed with buddies and acquaintances of mine. It was also the only show that could've possibly made me turn down seeing Pigeon John and the Chicharones, who also happened to be performing in San Francisco that evening. Next time, I hope all these crazy ill hip hop shows can time themselves better!
The stakes were high since I knew I was missing Los Chicharones for the show, but thankfully all of the acts delivered nicely and the evening lived up to expectations. Sister Crayon, a vocal electronic quartet from the Bay area, opened the show with a pretty great set of angsty experimental music that wouldn't have felt out of place in Anticon's recent electronic line-up. Their songs were often dark in tone, but had enough lively energy and technical wizardry to get the crowd amped on their music. They mixed live drums and guitar work with synths and drum pads, occasionally spinning a sound byte in reverse to wail over. All the musicians did their part, but a particular hats off goes out to the lead vocalist of the group, who seriously knew how to strut on stage while pouring her heart and soul into it. It's that much liver when you can feel that music notes in the singer's stage motions. Strong opening set.
To kick off the Doomtree portion of the evening, Lazerbeak got up on stage and did his thing solo for a bit. But rather than turning in tracks from his "Legend Recognize Legend" project, 'Beak plugged out a bunch of extra-sick beats live on his production equipment. The SF Weekly recently dubbed Lazerbeak "King of the Lavabangers," and though he was laughing over the compliment on stage that's exactly what the man delivered. Lavabangers! Some very bangin' beats that got a bunch of heads in the crowd cheering, myself included. The set worked better than Lazerbeak's rock-oriented tracks in a live setting; bring on the instrumental album!
Once Lazerbeak got the crowd properly warmed (read: melted) up, Sims (pronounced "see-ims," as trademarked by Dessa) took the stage wearing probably the most ridiculous sweatshirt ever seen worn by a hip hop performer. He performed his rap music and performed it well, wheeling through plenty of bangers from his recent "Bad Time Zoo" album and fitting a couple of older tunes into the mix as well. He kicked the set off on a contemplative note with "Like You Mean It," only flip it into some extra hype shit by following it with "Radio Opaque." Some major highlights included his performances of "Weight," "The Veldt," and "Key Grip" (which still works great live). And don't even get me started on how great "Burn It Down" was live, they really nailed that one and drove it home... especially with Sims in the center of the crowd moshing with folks. Lazerbeak pounded out all of the beats live, and Sims occasionally interjected tales of his extensive touring and artistic bond with Justin Beiber, or as Sims called him "the Beib." Really strong set. Sims mentioned he'd be back in the area in September, so we can only hope!
Dessa's live band, which included a guitarist/keyboardist, a drummer, and Sean McPherson of the Heiruspecs on bass, set up the tools of their trade and then Dessa stepped up to do her thing. The live band added a refreshing element of surprise to the mix, as their arrangements of Dessa's songs stood true to the original tracks while adding enough variation to make them sound different than what the crowd might expect. As if that weren't awesome enough, Dessa's talented singer friend Aby Wolf was also in attendance, and offered some great back-up vocals and collaborative tracks to the mix. Apparently, Aby was flown out to the West Coast courtesy of McNally Smith college in Minneapolis, who were so impressed by her performance with Dessa that they offered her plane tickets to any two shows of Dessa's tour. It's an honor that Aby chose SF as one of those dates, and it was awesome to see her contribute to Dessa's traditional Minneapolis mix. Dessa was on point and had the crowd enthralled as usual, seamlessly switching between her excellent rapping and beautiful singing over the band's quality instrumentation. She performed a number of interesting takes on my favorite songs of hers. "Matches to Paper Dolls" got the piano and bass treatment, "Go Home" sounded pretty as usual, "Sadie Hawkins" was extra lively and "Mineshaft" sounded very interesting with a rock guitar riff in the place of a violin sample. Dessa clowned on her inner-tour-van rivalry with Lazerbeak, who got up to plug his beats into a few of the tracks like "The Crow" and "The Wren" with Sims. I especially liked the way that Dessa and Aby tackled "The Bullpen," with the two ladies vibing to a really funky guitar arrangement from the band. Great set and the longest performance I've seen from Dessa to date - yay for headling tours.
Danced up in the front row of the packed crowd the entire time, as usual (well, not necessarily the packed crowd part, but the dancing part for sure). Awesome show, score another one for Doomtree! Check out some video footage from yours truly below:
The King of Lavabangers hard at work with a new beat:
Dessa and the band playing "Matches to Paper Dolls" (and me singing along badly to it, irk!):
Dessa and Aby Wolf's rendition of "The Bullpen" with the band. Really feelin this one!