Dessa CD Release Party at Fine Line Music Café

Dessa (right) with Aby Wolf - Photo by Meredith Westin

It was the biggest show of the weekend, and without doubt the most publicized to date of the young decade. The Fine Line was sold out and packed to the walls Friday night for this, the big coming out party of Dessa Darling and her new full-length, A Badly Broken Code. Not only did she not disappoint but, even when a surprise Doomtree reunion broke out, she made the night all her own.

Long before the boys joined her on stage, the night had the stamp of the Crew all over it with Paper Tiger spinning the tables on the pregame. After Aby Wolf and Jeremy Messesmith started things off, the latter putting aside “Purple and Gold” to do his own version of a Viking fight song, Doomtree alumnus Cecil Otter warmed up the house with a killer hip hop display. Otter was backed up by a three-piece band, but it was his lyrical fireworks throughout a set highlighted by “A Rickety Bridge” that got the room lit up for the lady of the hour.

And then there she was, dressed in a black with a rose in her hair, striding elegantly onto stage with a band that included, among others, MK Larada. The first song Dessa played was “Dixon’s Girl,” the single off Code that sounds more cabaret than hip hop. She was in songstress mode, playing the audience coquettishly and sliding out the notes as she sang. There was a definite vulnerability in how she performed but also an attitude in her animated gesticulations, which no doubt was her emcee roots coming through and asserting themselves.

That mix had an empowering effect. The audience knew the words and sang along, some holding hands or embracing while almost everyone swayed to the mix. Dessa, in turn, drew strength from her fans, especially those who made great efforts to be there, and she thanked them repeatedly for their support throughout the night.

Dessa only stayed on with her band for about a half-dozen songs before taking a brief intermission. The interim allowed her old Doomtree cohorts to take the stage for a surprise reunion, and Sims, Mic Mictlan, and P.O.S. wasted no time turning this heartfelt revue into an all-out party. The three emcees, spurred on by Paper Tiger, ducked and swooped around stage, sparring and jousting about as they breathed fire into some old favorites.

Dessa - Photo by Meredith Westin

The room abuzz, Dessa returned and mixed it with the boys with shit-talking authority. It felt a bit like a torch had been passed and, suddenly, the earlier events were thrown into a whole new light, even as the following songs returned to Code material and she did a series of duets. (P.O.S., on this occasion, was “the most famous backup singer in the world.”) The genre bending of “Seamstress” or even “Momento Mori’s” cabaret reprise revealed an artist coming into her own, able to switch meters as if they belonged to different people, yet blended them together as merely different sides of the same persona. The old emcee was no more abandoned than the new singer was a wilting flower.

So how was Dessa supposed to cap off such an impressive performance? Why, by doing a choreographed dance routine, of course. “I’m always doing some kind of salsa shit that has nothing to do with the music,” she laughed. Just so that it wouldn’t begin to seem all too easy, she admitted, “It took about two hours to be able to do those 30 seconds. . .”

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