P.O.S. @ The Urban Lounge

Posted February 18, 2010 in
The Urban Lounge
with Grieves, Dessa of Doomtree

One of my favorite things about Salt Lake is how small most of the venues are. I'm at the Urban Lounge early, drink in hand, waiting for the music to get started. At the smaller places, it's worth my time to show up this prematurely to maybe catch a glimpse of the performers while they aren't all done up in PR mode. I don't know why I do it perhaps to feel included, perhaps just to reassure myself these artists who have provided essential soundtracks for my daily life are, in fact, real people. This time, I'm lucky. I spot Dessa right away, off in a corner with headphones on, staring at a laptop. It's a little bit tough to resist walking up to this girl and ask for a piece of paper and a pen so I can get some of this review down on paper while the thoughts and adrenaline are still fresh. Being Dessa, I can bet she's got both handyThis girl bleeds blue ink and regularly spills it for our benefit. Tonight, I'm content to type it out on a cellphone keyboard.

I think I spot Grieves over by the merch booth, hocking shirts and dancing to some A Tribe Called Quest. I ask him about what he's got to sell and he hips me to this project he did with a friend of his, Type called Illegitimate Children, which has a new EP called My Girlfriend Beats Me. So now I'm thinking: two out of threeWhere's Pissed Off Stef (or whatever inputs P.O.S. has for that acronym lately)? I hope he's well. I once saw Gym Class Heroes while Travis (Shleprock) was all tweaked out on some pills or something, and it kind of blew. But I guess if one is really strung out, one deserves respect for coming out at all.

Without much fanfare at all, Dessa takes the stage, backed up by Pain Ole Bill, who's been P.O.S.'s DJ for a bit. She starts off with a quiet and unassuming classic of hers, "Kites," which sets the tone for the whole show. There's energy crackling beneath the surface, like a sunken greek statue. She aimed to please with crowd-favorite rockers like "Veteran" and "Dixon's Girl," the new single off her brand new release, A Badly Broken Code. There are also quieter moments like "Mineshaft" and "Poor Atlas," where her voice and thoughtful prose really shine. "Sadie Hawkins" off of Doomtree's eponymous release from last summer is the sexiest song I've heard in years, and it's even better live. I know from experience that more than few kids were focused on her commanding stage presence for several reasons. I tried to close my eyes some to remain impartial and just listen to the setit didn't work. All I'm saying is that Urban Lounge is lucky a lush like me isn't Dessa, 'cause every dude in the place would've bought her a drink if she'd asked. All this, and she even finishes with an a cappella version of "Hallelujah," most recently made famous by its inclusion on the Watchmen soundtrack performed by Leonard Cohen. You know, that slow song during that awkward sex scene in the owl ship? Nevermind. Anyway, who finishes with a cappella? Impressive. Dessa, your album is sick, you tour like a champion and you have a new work of prose in the works called A Perfect Burn. Let's see what you do next.

Grieves is up next and he knows how to work a crowd like he was born to it. His multi-talented DJ Budo, who seems equally comfortable behind a laptop, guitar or trumpet, is backing him up. Budo's even got his own album, One Bird On A Wire, out now. These guys are young and play thoughtful raps over beats reminiscent of both Ratatat and Ant from Atmosphere. They play songs from their album Irreversible and a re-release of 88 Keys & Counting out March 2, as well as new material from an upcoming album. The live instrumentation really adds depth and warmth to Grieves' heavier rhymes. This kid sounds like he reads dictionaries and isn't afraid to show it. He's sometimes dark, sometime irreverent, sometimes angry, and always smooth. I'll be interested to see where the careers of these talented artists go. They successfully hype the crowd in anticipation for the headliner.

P.O.S. finally appears and jumps on the stage wearing a Grieves hoody. I've seen him play a few times and he never fails to impress. Right away he makes connections with the crowd and proceeds to get our blood pumping so hard, you'd think he'd get blisters. Stef's got a large body of workthree solo albums, including last year's Never Better, as well as many leading roles in Doomtree releasesand he pulls from all of it to get us all kinds of worked up. "Music for Shoplifting" off of Ipecac Neat is such a classic for its off-kilter beat and inspiring rhymes. "De La Souls" and "P.O.S. is Ruining My Life" both make sure plenty of vocal chords will be scratchy from overuse later. But this guy really shines when playing songs off his newest release. It's always exciting to see an artist whose new work stands up to and improves upon the first songs you heard from them. The speed and energy of "Drumroll" and "Goodbye" speak volumes about his punk-rock style and work ethic, while a more restrained moment like "Optimist" makes it clear why this Minnesota hustler has such a following. He manages to bond with his fans at every show, even challenging and beating several at thumb wars. I've never seen any huge, vocorder-heavy, top-40 rap artist do anything near that cool. Plain Ole Bill's favorite song is clearly "Savion Glover," a stripped down minimalist exercise of a song, with plenty of scratching for him to show off his expert touch. P.O.S. proceeds to then bring the house down by closing with "Purexed" which builds from spoken-word verses to a tumultuous chorus and is sure to get stuck in your head.

Salt Lake was the only city on the tour where these artists played two shows, the other being at all-age venue Kilby Court the night before. Doomtree and its varied associates keep coming back to Salt Lake and its got to be for the fans. They say the people come in with no reservations, they're here 'cause they love the music and when the beat hits, they honestly can't control themselves. Like the best artists, P.O.S. and co. build on what they're given, and it cascades until everyone's sweaty. I hope they come back, I'll be holding my breath.