Dessa & Doomtree Playing Union Transfer Philly This Week (2/15)
Words by Dan Debes
Photos by Keanan Barbour-March
Dessa’s own observations at her 11/11/11 show at the Tin Angel probably describes it the best. “They told us that we what we were doing wasn’t sustainable. We have been unsustaining for a decade.” The poetic songstress was speaking about the collective that makes up Doomtree, the Minneapolis based group of guys (and one gal) that has been stirring quite a bit of buzz in the scene for the past couple years and laughing in the face of critics while keeping their nose to the grind.
The show a few months back featured Dessa as a solo artist showcasing her latest release of Castor, The Twin which reworks a lot of the tunes from her previous full length A Badly Broken Code. When one usually hears “remix” they may think of some horrible bass and drum laden evil twin of the original. Dessa takes the opposite route and breaks her songs down into something even more musical with a full session band giving her silver tongue a jazzy/orchestral base to build on. As she put it at her show, some of her new work inspires cuddling instead of fist fights.
It was quite an experience to hear an additional fresh breath added to some of the fan favorites such as an alt-country sort of twist to “Bullpen.” With the excellent musicians and Dessa’s sultry-but-dangerous voice the live set took on a whole new vibrant life like in “Dixon’s Girl” where the stand-up bass and piano painted a picture of Dessa in a speakeasy jazz club and a flapper dress…not that you would ever catch her in that outfit.
She had commented how it’s a lot easier to know when you are doing well at a rap show because there are people going crazy in a mosh pit, but the Tin Angel and it’s little tables were a slightly different experience. Although the mildly nervous sounding singer dubbed the room as “Quaalude, PA” the hushed silence during the set and mostly polite clapping was merely a testament to her ability to enthrall the room with a new wrinkle in her music. Closing the set out with a heart-wrenching combination of spoken word and “Hallelujah” that put even the preferred cover version by Rufus Wainwright to shame, Dessa solidified her ability to be a multi-tiered artist.
As previously mentioned, Doomtree is a collective made up of other fellow artists P.O.S., Sims, Cecil Otter, Mike Mictlan, Lazerbeak and Paper Tiger. It’s members’ accomplishments, besides their own trailblazing releases, range from the Bon Iver collaboration called Gayngs to a production mashup of Fugazi and Wutang appropriately dubbed Wugazi. If anything, their knack for genre bending of punk, indie and hip-hop and beyond is not a flow to be questioned and allows the guys and girls to explore an infinite universe of music. For those saying that hip-hop isn’t really your thing or that rap lyrics are always about drugs/money/sex/violence then open up your mind and take a listen to any release from Doomtree for a refreshing and unique experience.
Doomtree’s November 2011 release “No Kings” doesn’t fool around and hits you in the teeth right from the opening song “No Way,” reaches a midway high during the anthemic crowd-screaming chorus with “Bangarang” and though the tone may quiet down some towards the end, there are no prisoners taken with the punching beats and caustically intelligent lyrics. If there was one word to define the collective’s new album it would be “defiance.” The defiance is directed to all those that doubted any aspect about the family that has been come to known as Doomtree and cements that they do not answer to anyone except themselves and their fans.
If you missed their last show as a full group in the basement of the First Unitarian Church in 2010 on their Wings and Teeth tour, then their upcoming performance at Union Transfer on Wednesday, February 15 at 8:00 p.m. would be be foolish to miss out on since the crowds are only going to grow from here. One of the supporting acts for Wednesday include South Philly’s own Lushlife whose 2009 release Cassette City features guest spots from the members of indie royalty of such ilk as Vampire Weekend, Deerhoof and Ariel Pink. The night also feautures F.Stokes who is no stranger to the Doomtree crew considering he released an album backed by beats by Lazerbeak in 2009. Tickets are still available for the steal of a price of $13. This is just a mid-way stop on a freight train tour of the U.S. with iconic venues Bowery Ballroom in NY and The Middle East in MA as the next stops and a continued tour across the Midwest. Now is the time to get in on the action because to steal a line from my favorite Dessa song to describe Doomtree’s prospects, “it’s not much, but my money’s on you.”