There is a certain etiquette shared by artists who don't make a fuss about introductions. Never to overcompensate; they're sure to trim the chatter and just play. Jeremy Messersmith has done this before. He and his accompanying band simply begin, complete with a cellist, drums, guitar and bass synchronized so romantically you start to wish you'd dressed a bit more appropriately, that you'd done something with your hair. Their music calls for elegance, but not the pretentious kind, because, let's not forget: Messersmith and Co. are, first and foremost, an indie pop band. Their latest record, The Reluctant Graveyard, is ripe with sophistication, sing-along melodies and such sweetened, well-crafted arrangements that it allows for more subtly morbid lyricism.
The Minneapolis quartet opened their Soda Bar show on Monday with "Novocaine," a song that laments, "I could have been someone but now my name is just a ghost" -- a feeling best reserved for artists who never had a chance, but Messersmith is critically acclaimed, celebrated by the likes of NPR's All Songs Considered and adored by the Twin Cities' reputable music scene. He is also been touted as one of their best songwriters under 30. So, such defeatism seems a little premature. Yet that's perhaps the best part of his songwriting, so rich in narrative, it's imaginative enough to be removed, and that's what separates the most compelling storytellers from the rest.
The band's musical fluidity -- from masterful rhythms, fluttering strings that ease low and climb high, nimble finger-picking and punching bass lines -- is revealed through the agreeable nodding of Messersmith; it's as if his head bobs are what really keeps it all together. They performed "Knots"with a softness that built in transition to "Lazy Bones," a track that moves to a Strokes-like beat. Messersmith then announced that he would play a slower tune, with foreshadowing strings hinting at the melody to "A Girl, a Boy and a Graveyard," a beautiful narrative about exactly the complexities of youth, death and young love.
Messersmith rounded out the night with songs that included "Deathbed Salesman," singing, "This is how it has to end, so love somebody while you can," with couples pairing off and dancing to the left of the bar. He thanked everyone once again: "I'm surprised anyone doesn't have anything better to do on a Monday night!"
Attendees were also entertained by openers Michael McGraw and Paper Bird (pictured, right). Denver natives Paper Bird were particularly illuminating, an eight-piece band that occupied every inch of the stage, with three sweetly giggling girls taking the front with their three-part harmonies, smooth jazz vocals and country twang. Positioned behind them was a banjo player, upright bass, drums, trombone and trumpet -- but everyone's attention was riveted on the three darlings in front. Paper Bird may appear to be a sophisticated karaoke act, but however lighthearted, their effortless vocals showed the crowd that while they might be a little silly, they're no amateurs. In fact, they're one of the best opening acts I've seen in a long while.
Nada Alic runs the San Diego-based music blog Friends With Both Arms and works in artist relations for the nonprofit organization Invisible Children. Follow her updates on Twitter or contact her directly.