Artists: Dessa, Monakr
Venue: El Rey Theater
Date: May 9th, 2018
It’s been a number of years since Dessa passed through Los Angeles, so I scooped up tickets the moment her show at the El Rey was announced. Touring behind her excellent new album Chime, I entered the theater with high expectations, having been impressed by her Troubadour show years earlier.
Opening band (and Dessa‘s touring band) Monakr were partway through their set when we arrived. Their tunes were pure synth pop rock, and were highly palatable to our ears. The hooks were solid and their energy was perfect for warming up the crowd for Dessa.
She opened with Chime‘s first single (and my favorite song from the album) “Good Grief”. Not many artists would open a show with such a pensive and melancholy track, but Dessa has never been one to follow the typical conventions of pop music. Unfortunately there was something off about the opening number, as if the sound hadn’t been perfectly tuned, or Dessa and the band weren’t in sync. It didn’t ruin the track, but kept it from sounding as amazing as it should. The issue continued through “Matches to Paper Dolls” and “Jumprope”, but by the fourth song, “Boy Crazy”, things seemed to coalesce and the songs came through crisply.
There was some interesting banter through the set, with Dessa speaking to a photographer about the diverse audiences her shows draw out, and asked for him to take some photos now when she wasn’t performing and looking weird. It’s nice to see an artist who creates such dramatic music doesn’t take herself too seriously.
Proving time and again her range, Dessa went between moving ballads (“Call Out Your Ghosts”), upbeat pop (“Half of You”) and rap bangers (“Fighting Fish”), and broke up the songs with a funny but hard-hitting poem, and an amusing skit read back-to-back with Andrew from Monakr. The unpredictability kept the pace of the show moving at a great pace, so that when she came to closer “5 out of 6”, it was hard to believe the show was over. That number had hands in the air, and would have been enough to make the show satisfying, but Dessa of course graced the audience with one more song for an encore (sadly not “The Bullpen”, which can currently be heard in the documentary RBG).
The friends I had brought along to the show had not heard her before, and told me they very much enjoyed it (though my wife admitted she liked Monakr even more than Dessa). Nothing wrong with that – Dessa wouldn’t have them on the bill if they weren’t worth hearing.
And do yourself a favor and listen to Chime: