Live Review: Dessa at the Casbah, July 12, 2013

Photo by Hutton Marshall

Doomtree’s Dessa came to the Casbah on Friday night, and her attackingly beautiful lyrics and vocal harmonies filled the venue with an awe-inspiring energy that took the packed party crowd by surprise.

Okapi Sun, the self-proclaimed “electronic tribal dance party” duo, got the surprisingly ample crowd moving early on in the night. The local band used beefed-up synth leads and impressive multi-instrumentation, switching frequently between guitar, drums, synth, and keys. Despite coming off as an over-caffeinated Ratatat, they were undeniably talented singers and unique musicians. They’d do well to tone down their overbearing electro sound to let their musical prowess shine.

Chicago-based rapper Open Mike Eagle put on a hell of a show. Boisterous yet down to earth, he and his comical, versatile producer played a light-hearted set filled with topics not usually rapped about, such as the NSA and the overuse of one’s cell phone.

Aby Wolf and Dessa’s backing band set up the stage for the final act as the Casbah filled itself to the brim. Dessa strutted onto the stage with her seductive grin and a fistful of whiskey. She quickly tore into her first song, which highlighted her ability to blend her delicate voice, poetic lyrics, and relentlessly captivating R&B.

Her stage presence was magnetic. She snaked back and forth, writhing with her lucrative smile and electrifying connection with fellow vocal talent Aby Wolf. The two weaved their beautifully meshed voices throughout the set.

Her performance showed off much of her latest effort, Parts of Speech, which came out last month. On it, she maturely strays from the pop appeal of her early work to focus on melodic instrumentation and deeper, more explorative lyrics. Still, it’s good to see her continue to rip apart hip-hop beats with songs like “Fighting Fish” and “Warsaw.” Her live show was devoid of any electronic instrumentation or pre-recorded tracks, and her ability to do that was thanks to the incredible talent of her backing band, who were so entrancing they almost stole the spotlight from Dessa — almost.

Dessa had an enormously captivating stage presence that was incredible to witness. She and Aby Wolf shared a connection that made their shared vocal duties all the more powerful, and it was obvious from the crowd’s familiarity with every lyric that she’s earned a near-fanatical fan base. Her new album shows that she hasn’t forgotten her hip-hop roots despite continuing to mature as a songwriter. Her live show hasn’t lost a step either.

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