“It’s so good to be here in Minneapolis,” Jeremy Messersmith said near the beginning of his second sold-out night at First Avenue. It’s a line that’s been punted off that stage by artists from around the world, and it was the first of many signs throughout the night that Messersmith has advanced past the status of beloved hometown artist and into a full-fledged, nationally viable touring act. His two back-to-back shows at First Avenue were the only two nights he’d be in town this week, sandwiched in between nonstop promotional activities and shows in New York and London.
Messersmith brought an impressive 10-piece band along for the ride at First Avenue, including a full string section (the Laurels String Quartet); a new keyboardist, Sarah Perbix (also of Cloud Cult); guitarists Brian Tighe and Peter Sieve (also of Rogue Valley); and his longtime collaborator and drummer Andy Thompson.
Together, the sprawling group added depth and impact to Messersmith’s new material, which was the focus of the show. “Tourniquet” was an early highlight (and clearly already a favorite of the crowd), as was the slow-burning and expansive “It’s Only Dancing” and an emotionally wrenching rendition of Robyn’s “Call Your Girlfriend,” and he seemed to rush through his older material so he could get on to playing more of his new songs. The formerly tongue-in-cheek acoustic ditty “Steve” took on new poignancy thanks to the string quartet’s sweeping accompaniments, and symbolized the grand transition that Messersmith has been in the midst of over this past year or two—even his most light-hearted material has taken on a new gravitas, thanks to the bigger backing band and the sobering tone of his new material.
Heart Murmurs is an album about striving to be the best lifelong partner a person can be. Questions about loyalty and devotion are left ringing in the listener’s ear, and Messersmith’s plot twists and surprise endings are sharper than ever. But just when you think he’s about to turn to the dark side, his protagonist always prevails—a metaphor, one hopes, about the future of his career as he wades out into the perilous waters of the broader music industry.
Messersmith has gone past the point of needing us to cheer him on and prop him up back here at home, but Friday and Saturday night’s thunderous applause made an awfully nice soundtrack to his success.