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Wednesday, 31 July 2013 17:09

Concert review and set lists: Dessa (with Aby Wolf and Mathias & the Pirates) returns to the Firebird with a new album and an evolution of her sound, Tuesday, July 30

Dessa at the Firebird Dessa at the Firebird Wil Wander
Written by Wil Wander

The crowd seemed sparse as the showtime approached, but appearances can be deceiving. Locals Mathias & the Pirates took the stage to open the night, and by the close of their first song, the wallflowers had emerged from the booths and shadows and the influx of returning smokers filled the gaps to stuff the floor with a crowd even headliners could appreciate. By the time Dessa took the stage, there wasn't a straggler in the room and all eyes were fixed on the Firebird stage.

Armed with cuts and scratches from DJ LP, the duo of Mathias and Ms. Vizion warmed up the crowd with the expertise of veteran performers. Formerly of the accomplished Earthworms crew, Mathias has brought decades of experience to his most recent act, recruiting a friend and former member of the Grea Tones to add soulful hooks and a feminine flow that was well received by fans of the headliner. As they dispensed their rhymes, largely on the theme of pirates, the crowd grew constantly denser and more energetic. Mathias & the Pirates proved themselves as an ideal opener for Dessa and her crew.

They were followed by Aby Wolf, who once again joins the Dessa as both an opening act and member of the touring band. In the show earlier this year, Wolf faced some technical difficulties and was unable to use many of her vocal effects, but this time around everything functioned perfectly, and she was able to deliver her sound just the way she would like. Her music features dark, electronic production, spun by Doomtree family member Ander Other on the decks, but is largely dominated by her vocals. Often with heavy reverb and the repeating layers of a delay, Wolf dances around the microphone, mastering the use of direction and distance to create tone and intensity in her sounds. Her energy grew throughout the set, eventually ditching the mic stand and letting loose, deeply connecting every movement with the music. While the openers awakened the rhythm and rhyme of the music in the crowd, Aby Wolf's set expanded the audience's ear for refined vocal excellence.

The combination of openers served Dessa's current tour well, priming the fans for the sounds of her newest album "Parts of Speech." Unlike her previous releases that were created almost entirely with production from Doomtree's Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak, about half of this album was created with the live band as part of the process, resulting in music that is both more evolved and adaptive than her earlier, loop-based creations. In March, Dessa and the band shared a few of the new songs with the crowd, but this tour allowed them to show off their new creation and their set shared over half of the new album with the eager crowd.

The band comes armed with a well-selected group of versatile musicians, capable of handling a variety of productive tones that range from clean, unaltered instruments to fully synthesized electronic tones and mimicry of industrial samples. The back line is comprised of drummer Joey Van Phillips, who often adapted his sounds with a variety of padded sticks and the occasional effect, and bassist Sean McPherson who packed electronic basses in both standard and stand-up varieties. Dustin Kiel lead most of the songs from his guitar and keyboard, often combining multiple sounds and parts in his contribution. Aby Wolf also added a few electronic tones from a second set of keyboards and isn't afraid to leave a tambourine shaped bruise on her leg in addition to adding a constant flow of vocal harmony to the music.

Of course, despite sharing the stage with all of these talented musicians, it was Dessa that the crowd came to see. She addressed the crowd with confidence and a familiarity with the St. Louis faithful, once again abandoning the stage to perform from deep within the pool of faces on a number of songs. Already accomplished as a poet and emcee, this tour seemed to more deeply embrace her ability to tackle the melodic, vocal side of her style, much like the newest album, but she never abandons her urban edge and prowess as a commanding emcee.

In short, it has become clear that Dessa and her band can come to St. Louis and deliver again and again, and everyone is sure to be looking forward to her next stop in town.

Mathias & the Pirates set list:

Souls on Fire
Vie de la Buse
Ballad of Old Long Ben
Queen Anne's Revenge
Daly City Train
Lonely Heart Saloon

Dessa set list:

Skeleton Key
The Lamb
Children's Work
Matches to Paper Dolls
Into the Spin
The Crow
Momento Mori
And the Camera
Dixon's Girl
Call Off Your Ghosts
Dear Marie
The Man I Know
Fighting Fish
The Chaconne

Mineshaft 2

All photos by Wil Wander.

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