On Saturday night, an oddly curated lineup featuring four acts with few stylistic commonalities descended on the overpriced midtown venue known as Stage 48. The rap thread between GZA and Dessa was the only one worth pulling, and considering the opposite ends of the rap spectrum each occupy, barely seems worth mentioning.
After lengthy touring alongside her Minneapolis cohorts in Doomtree in support of No Kings, Dessa embarked on her first solo jaunt in a good minute, expanding the touring band to a quintet for the new year’s itinerary. Though she had headlined her prior January gigs, Dessa was only allotted 20 minutes to rock a New York City crowd anxious to see her. She thanked the Doomtree fans front and center, whom she refers to as “shareholders” in the independent label/collective, for their willingness to shell out $25 for a 20-minute set. Having once dropped $40 to see Grand Buffet play a 20-minute set, inexplicably opening for Third Eye Blind, I silently saluted. Dessa’s band ran through arrangements from Castor, the Twin, an orchestral reworking of earlier Dessa recordings, punctuated by gorgeous harmonization on “The Chaconne”.
Dessa killed, as always, before the night started getting weird. In the land of $40 card minimums and old white people sitting quietly on couches while GZA raps, predictability has no home.
Though Robben Ford is an undeniably great guitarist and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him pop up at some bluesy dive on an episode of Treme, his inclusion on the bill was a head scratcher. All the momentum and vitality built up from Dessa’s performance faded abruptly during Ford’s sleepy set for a half-hour that felt like an eternity.
Riffing on the genre disparity between the first two acts, a friend of mine questioned whether the next band would be death metal or goth rock. What emerged was the Victorian era-themed four-piece cello section of New York-based Rasputina, and some cringe-worthy, half-audible spoken word that reeked of pretension and amateurish writing during the few crisp lines that made it through the dissonance. Any respect accrued from the group’s ample harmony and quality instrumentation came crashing down under the weight of grating between-song dialogue, quirky for the sake of quirky Shakespeare references and spoken word unfit for a high school poetry slam.
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