Over The Weekend: P.O.S., Dessa and Astronautalis at Hailey's

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P.O.S., Dessa, Astronautalis
Hailey's Club
February 27, 2010

Better than: waiting in line for two hours.

Here's one thing can be said with almost unerring conviction: You've probably never been to a hip-hop show like the one held at Hailey's on Saturday night.

There was very little of what you'd normally see in that environment: "boom-boom-bap" drums, calls to the crowd to throw their hands skyward, crowded stages with unnecessary hype men.

Matter of fact, if an outsider had somehow wandered into this show, he or she would probably struggle to label the show as a hip-hop night at all. Rather, the Every Never is Now tour combined three performers who obviously hold in high regard the entertainment of their audience--and, for that, we must thank them.

It's always a good news/bad news scenario when you arrive at the venue only to find a line snaking out the front door for a block: Sure, this will be a rockin' show--but when will I get in?

We hear that some people were waiting for longer than an hour. Things were still congested outside by the time Astronautalis hit the stage around 10:30--but that doesn't mean that he didn't play to a full crowd of enthusiastic revelers.

Astronautalis and Denton are good friends: Some of his most passionate fans come from the little D, no doubt a by-product of his former residence in the area. While studying theater at Southern Methodist University, Astronautalis cut his teeth as a performer at many a Denton show, perhaps earning a more widespread and loyal fan base than he ever did in Dallas. He treated this crowd to a solid show that mixed parts of emotional singing, improv comedy, and, yes, very able rapping.

As usual, one of the highlights was when he took topic suggestions from the crowd to create an impromptu freestyle song right before our eyes. It's always fun when the audience suggests topics that Astronautalis is passionate about, and that's exactly what happened when one of the topics was the television show Lost. On top of being a real crowd-pleaser of a freestyle, you could tell the conviction the artist had for the TV program as he attacked the topic with all the intensity of a true fanboy.


Next up was Dessa, whose smoky voice and tall physique made her appear more like lounge singer than rapper. She began her set without introduction an ambient and low-tempo song that barely rose above the chatter of the bustling crowd. But her magical singing voice slowly rose above all, silencing the audience by the close of the initial song. It's quite obvious that Dessa draws inspiration from sources not traditional for a hip-hop performer. In addition to her singing, one could also perceive poetry, spoken word performance, and yes, complex and lyrical rap, as heavy influences.

Dessa is the kind of performer who can convey an incredible amount of energy while barely even raising her voice. While many performers exhibit their intensity with heightened volume or energetic dancing, Dessa instead bottled her explosiveness in perfectly-executed cadences as she hardly moved from her position behind the mic. And it was every bit as engaging, if not more so, than her more outwardly energetic counterparts. Her diversity is almost jaw-dropping: To go from double-time rap to slow and passionate singing is something not many on the planet can pull off, and maybe nobody does it with more command than Dessa.

As mentioned earlier, this show was one of incredible diversity for a bill that for purposes of genre-defining was 100 percent hip-hop. The audience was really treated to a number of emotional and musical twists and turns.

Enter P.O.S., the tour's headlining act, who also wrought an unconventional path into the world of rap. Punk rock was his first love in music; he didn't see that rap had anything to do with the way that he wanted to express himself, and he summarily dismissed the genre. But, listening to him now, it's obvious that he saw the stylistic and artistic parallels between punk and hip-hop, bring many elements of the former into his rap.

The results are truly powerful: While, musically, his in-your-face attitude remains a huge part of his persona, the lyrics are packed tight with imagery and fire that is rarely seen in any genre. And, given the respect that the audience gave to Dessa and Astronautalis, it was a little surprising to see them go so apeshit for P.O.S.

Then I remembered: This was a P.O.S. show.

The crowd stayed in a frenzy for just about the entire set--even P.O.S. himself seemed a little surprised that little ol' Denton could bring this level of intensity. And about halfway through the set, he introduced Dessa to the stage for a couple songs, including a great rendition of the P.O.S. song "Low Light Low Life." He has such a skill for exuberance performance that I hardly even noticed when his set was over that he had played for over an hour.

The Every Never is Now Tour is about as refreshing as it gets for hip-hop in 2010. To see a trio of performers so unafraid to fit into conventions of the genre is a beautiful thing. To see them pull it off so skillfully is inspiring.

Critic's Notebook
Personal bias:
Admittedly, this critic had never heard of Dessa until recently and only had about a week to digest her catalog before seeing her live for the first time. I will be getting her album in the near future because she is a superstar. (No offense to the others on the bill).

By The Way: P.O.S. and Astronautalis, while not taking the stage together on Saturday night, are close cohorts in music and are currently working on a full-length album together. Expect that project to be done by the end of 2010, and expect it to be awesome. Those of you who appreciate 20th century American literature will also be pleased to know that F. Scott Fitzgerald plays a big role in the creative progress of the album.

Random note: For those of you who keep track or care, Astronautalis' five freestyle topics were "bees," "water," "diabetes," "ping-pong," and "Lost."

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