Singer/rapper Dessa (Margret Wander) is a member of the Midwest hip-hop collective Doomtree and a genre-buster to an impressive degree. I was not surprised to learn that she has also published a collection of fiction and poetry, Spiral Bound. She combines absorbing, intelligent wordplay with airy vocal melodies, and she plays with an excellent band of multi-instrumentalists, which included singer Aby Wolf at The Troubadour last Saturday, providing vocals that were much more than just back-ups. Dessa came out looking serious and tough but unmistakeably pretty, tall and lanky with her hair tied back tight and wearing giant hoop earrings. She had a very polished and controlled, but sincere, stage presence that she occasionally broke through with jokes to the crowd.
The band played “Call Off Your Ghost” (if not first, early on) from the new album Parts of Speech, which is my favorite track, and it was intense and gorgeous with the dual vocals on the chorus ringing through the venue. Dessa and Wolf harmonized throughout most of the songs, Wolf often chiming in on alternate lines while Dessa rapped, and when the music rose to a climax, the two would face each other and emphasize the tension. They were a nice contrast: Dessa gripping the mike with the cord wrapped tight around her arm and Wolf gesturing dramatically.
The people in the crowd were of diverse styles and most were obvious fans, cheering at Dessa’s references to Doomtree and its DIY attitude. She made everyone laugh with the comment: “To all the guys who got dragged here by their girlfriends saying ‘It’s kinda like hip-hop, I swear! You’ll like it!’ – I hope you get laid tonight.” Among others played from Parts of Speech were “Skeleton Key”, “Warsaw” and “The Lamb”; she also played “Matches To Paper Dolls” from her first album, A Badly Broken Code. Two slower songs not played but that I recommend from Parts of Speech are “Annabelle” and “It’s Only Me”.
The music flowed from pounding beats to quirky ballads and back again, never transitioning roughly or breaking the overall feel. In short, it was a fantastic show.
Image via Doomtree website