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Live Review: “State of Emergency” Declared after Dessa and Co. Destroy Santa Barbara

“Cons”? Yes, there are cons. Let’s not focus on that. I think I can explain those away a bit. I have never done a rating system of any kind before, in these reviews, but I am thinking I need to do something in honor of some Midwest flavor coming to Santa Barbara. My buddy, Will, a fellow DOOMTREE fan scoffed a bit, “Let me guess, 5 stars! 10 out of 10!” I will not assign some arbitrary star system to a show like this. The likes of DOOMTREE needs something more creative, something more “Minne-snow-ta” than that. The qualifying review follows, but let’s start with a more quantifiable system. So, the “Into the Spin” tour stop in Santa Barbara gets...(drumroll)

PBR-fueled rounds of Minnesota winter Disc Golf

SIMS, Lazerbeak, and Dessa, have been cutting their way across America, and even into Canada, on the “Into The Spin” tour. On Saturday, they landed in Santa Barbara, Calif., in a late addition show at the Velvet Jones on State Street. Initially it was a lean crowd, but it filled out by the time SIMS hit the stage. The Velvet Jones is clearly a music spot in SB that is not simply somewhere you go to see a specific artist, but is a venue that many just frequent as something to do, catching whatever artist happens to be on stage on any given night. With a red, wrap-around bar up front and an intimate stage area tucked away in the back, the VJ makes for a very close quarters performance for the artist and the audience alike. There is no barrier keeping you from the lip of the stage as a fan. From a photographer’s stand point, there was no limit to the “first three, no flash” rule that is standard for most venues. This venue fit the modus operandi of DOOMTREE to a T; accessibility.

While shooting and watching a couple of local openers, I could see Lazerbeak hanging out at the bar near the merch booth, where I could also see SIMS. In and out of the crowd wandered Dessa, “posted up at the bar” ordering Whiskey/Amarettos and meeting fans. This is classic DOOMTREE. At any show, at any given moment, you will find yourself flanked by someone who is gonna be on stage in 20 minutes. I got a few minutes to chat with Lazerbeak literally five minutes before he had to be on stage for his solo moments. The brevity and frankness of our conversation was surreal. Very humble and nice guy who seems to truly appreciate a compliment. We got to talk about the road fatigue that comes with being about halfway through a tour, and he commiserated with having had to balance the “day job” and doing what you love on the side, the thing that kept me from the Roxy show in LA the night before. I dare you to find this moment when you see Lady Gaga at the fucking Staples Center.

A highlight of the night was Lazerbeak getting a solo ten minutes on stage before he and SIMS did their thing. DJs are always in the background, and as a producer his work is done in the studio, or more accurately a basement, and then an album is born. On this occasion, the crowd got warmed up watching Lazerbeak “play” a beat machine. It was something to see, Lazerbeak dropping “rap bangers” to get heads bobbing and some fists in the air. Don’t be fooled by his “Super Producer” moniker. Last September he released Legend Recognize Legend, which is a departure from his usual skill set. Singing, playing guitar, and of course producing, he does it all. iTunes lists his new album as “pop,” but don’t let the smooth taste fool ya, because this is in line with DOOMTREE’s legendary style of deeper lyrics and musical ability than you’re gonna find most anywhere else.

SIMS joined Lazerbeak on stage now and they lit it up. SIMS has a comfort on stage, playing with the crowd, that comes from years of road warrior status. By his own admission he was feeling a little under the weather. Going a couple rounds with a cold, he was a little hoarse, but Ed Hardy clad SoCal germs weren’t gonna keep him from just killing it. He jokes about himself and his status, “I had to fire my stylist. That’s what you do when you get rich and famous, you fire everyone every week.” He also called out for the energy from the crowd, saying “let’s get all the ‘bros’ from next door over here. Get ‘em like ‘Hey, what going on over there? Sounds pretty cool. Let’s go over.’” SIMS put on a great performance, jumping into the crowd for a couple of tracks and getting them involved throughout with shouts during the chorus of “Weight” and other tracks.

SIMS does cover a lot of social and political topics in his tracks, now more so than in the past. Bad Time Zoo calls out a lot of people and groups in their actions and ideals. “One Dimensional Man,” a powerfully performed song in the set, is about the armchair environmentalists that buy their hybrid cars, recycle bags and bottles, but don’t care for the plight of their fellow man. These people, in SIMS analysis, act based on guilt more than genuine care, donating to NPR and using Purell, but all the while forgetting their neighbor, buying into a culture of green living all the while feeling smug that they think they are changing the world. “Are you saving your soul, or braiding the rope, that’s making you choke?” SIMS pulls no punches, covering topics like this, but he still laughs, “I rap about serious things, but I don’t take myself too seriously.” He and Lazerbeak destroyed their set on stage with epic anthems that got the crowd moving and bouncing with SIMS among his musical cohorts. The only thing missing for me was a performance of “15 Blocks” or “Osmosis.” He addressed “Osmosis” indirectly as they figured out the next song in the set, “No, don’t need to do a track about daddy issues. Don’t wanna hear that.” I wished he had. As a dedicated fan, I wanted some more tracks from Lights Out Paris or False Hopes 14, but I know he was repping his new album, so I forgive the performing new tracks.

Dessa. Oh, Dessa. I was a fan of the live band format since I saw an Atmosphere show at the PBR Theatre in Milwaukee, and Brother Ali in Portland for the “Hip-Hop Live” tour. I might be pulling my punches up to this point, but with Dessa there was little to nitpick, and even less to prove to an audience that consisted of hardcore fans, the riff-raff boiled off to leave the real favor behind like a good demi-glaze.

In a loose-fitting white dress shirt, something more suited to a painter in her studio than a songstress on stage; jeans; and Converse All-Stars; she brought great energy and nearly every song I would want to hear. With the live band at her back, she took it to the audience with incredible performances of tracks like, “Children’s Work” (a personal favorite), “Sadie Hawkins,” “Matches for Paper Dolls,” “Alibi,” “The Bullpen,” and many more. I would liked to have heard a few tracks, “Scuffle,” among them, but she did a great set of songs appropriate to her instrumental accompaniment. She brought the energy, sang her heart out, and commanded the crowd’s attention throughout. During her set she called out to the crowd for those in attendance that just wandered in looking for something to do on the night. To my surprise she knew their names after a meeting at the bar before her set; that’s how you make new fans, one NAME at a time. She even did a little love song, warning, “get ready to get balladed at. Fuck you, it’s a love song.”

SIMS and Dessa got on stage together, with Lazerbeak on the beats, for a very cool collaborative moment. Dessa even took a bar break during her set, leaving Lazerbeak to rock out a track off of his album on the guitar. Just like with any DOOMTREE show, the lines between individual sets are always blurrier than they are clear. The crew comes and goes within each other's time on stage. This comes from the nature of their music. Every album is greatly collaborative amongst the collective, so it only makes sense that the stage show be performed in the same manner. These are people that have, and still do, live together in many cases. Out of this kind of crew mentality comes the great friendship and unbreakable bond between each member. I saw this in levity at the bar after the show and in hugs between Dessa and her fellow tour buddies.

The appreciation for the crowd is also clear. This was the first time DOOMTREE landed in Santa Barbara, ever. One man at the show drove two hours, and I drove up from Ventura. There is a bond between crowd and performer in an intimate venue consisting of artists grinding out their honest living on word of mouth and constant touring. I have a great deal of respect for people of this caliber. As a fellow guy trying to build something from nothing through the written word, I feel indie-spired every time I get to see fellow hustlers plying their trade. They didn’t arrive in a tour bus, it was a van. Drinks aren’t delivered or waiting in the green room, they wait at the bar like everyone else. These are musicians that print EP’s out of their own pocket, and have “soup budgets” on the road. Dessa is her OWN tour manager on “Into the Spin.” After the show people bought her drinks while she goofed off with Lazerbeak and danced to the house music, and she acknowledged that “the merch booth, that stuff puts gas in the van to get to the next stop, but we understand that buying is completely optional.” Santa Barbara was a late addition show in a small venue, the best kind, and for those of us that came out as fevered fans, the show was worth the drive when you get to see artists like this, doing a show like that. Repping Wings & Teeth.

All photos by Wesley Bauman 

About the Author

Wesley Bauman, author of Doggy Paddling in the Deep End, is a writer/photojournalist originally from Oregon who makes his home in Ventura, CA. He's contributed to the VCReporter and maintains an active blog ( where he writes on political and social satire regularly. Follow Wesley on Twitter @myownfalseidol


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