I have been proclaiming my love for Astronautalis since his latest record was released last summer. I got wind of him through a CMJ review and was hooked. He was doing rap right, at a time when everybody else was talking about the size of their dick. In the same vein as Sage Francis or Atmosphere, but with more singing and rock choruses. "This Is Our Science" was refreshing, a breath of fresh air from the Top 40 cRap.
Speaking of fresh, Astronautalis just returned home from a European tour, where he stopped in Chicago before making his way to SXSW. Even though it was a Sunday night, and I had to be up early (3am), I felt compelled to see this show. After seeing live clips of this dude, singing the hooks and spitting the rhymes, I needed to be front and center, swaddled in the confines of Schubas Backroom.
Before he even played a lick of music, he had us all in his hands like a ball of silly putty. Astronautalis is not a shy person. Though his music is full of angst and emotion, he doesn't get on stage to hide under a veil of pain. On the contrary, he sheds his veil, and his skin. Jumping on stage, waving his hands, while telling the crowd, "Tonight, we are going to dance/sing like we never have before!" We were ready; more than ready, amped up! As a theater major, performance seems to come natural. Couple that with his history as a freestyle champion and years of touring, and you have a minstrel .
"Call your friends! We are 7 tickets away from "selling this bitch out!" (I would call this a sold out show, the place was slammed.) And that's how the soul bearing set started. "Holy Water" was poured over the audience, as the eerie guitar part crept up from behind. DJ Jel taps out a rhythm on his MPC, and here comes that beat, which we all know. The drummer kicks in, Astro commences to spitting venom, and the crowd starts humming the chorus. Burned me blind, burned me blind/God inside, God inside, yeah. It's telling as we are all starting to sweat now and the heat seems to be rising in the back room.
Sounding like a twangy Sage Francis on fire, Astro drags us into "The River, the Woods," for a lesson on faith. We are forced to listen to every lyric, as they are delivered with fervor and intent. The ensuing old school rap beat is filled with a murky keyboard, creating the perfect atmosphere for his platform, which seems non-committal. It's up to the listener, take what you'd like, just understand the outcome (this is my favorite song, and I am beyond enthused, though once exposed to This Is Our Science, your favorite song changes by the day).
We set sail without an anchor, we count upon that never stop
An anchor's just a coffin nail, waiting for that hammer drop
It holds you by the ankles till it pulls you to the Acheron
trade stable to be able to slip out from under devil's thumb
The lyrics challenge you at every turn, and urge you to look inside yourself. We all are looking for answers to the great unknown, and this seems to be the way Astronautalis fleshes them out.
In between songs we are assured by our captain of conflict, that we will "sweat our asses off" before the night is through. This is happening now, and we have reached a boiling point for the time being. So, instinctively, the guys lower the temp by playing a calmer, more reflective "Midday Moon." This song includes the best parts of indie driven rock, and keyboard rap. It's eclectic, and delivers live, because the lyrics are easier deciphered. How can I explains this: Em vs Pink Floyd...enough said.
Things were ratcheted up a notch with a killer version of the foreboding "Thomas Jefferson." Astro was a live wire, swaying back and forth across the stage, rapping and singing. The energy was palpable, the room was fiery, and the crowd was enraptured. The girl next to me road the El from Cicero to watch her hero exorcise demons under a glowing red stage light. Drinking Pabst on her 21st birthday, while Astro drank whiskey. The mother behind me drank nothing. She was there strictly chaperoning her two daughters whom she brought from the far suburbs, to celebrate their Spring Break. Kind of cool to be at a hip hop show and be surrounded by women, who knew the lyrics. This says a lot about content, and your audience.
But back to "Thomas Jefferson." , it was the best song of the night, warranting the most crowd participation. Other greats included "Contrails," "Secrets on Our Lips," and "Measure The Globe." Also of note, he played the first song he ever wrote (apparently) called "People Often Tell Me I'm Good At What I Do," which was cool to hear him talk about where the idea came from and the state of mind he was in at the time. He bantered with the audience a lot, at one point asking us what we wanted him to freestyle about. He also joked that he has finally written that big hit single. A song that is going to make him big money and break through to a bigger audience, "you know, that next level shit." Instead of rapping about "money, hoes, and guns," he was going to rap about "dead scientists." This being his ode to "Dimitri Mendeleev" one of 10 great songs off his opus This Is Our Science.
All in all, this was one amazing show. I'm glad I made it out on Sunday night to see this thing live. You Tube videos do not do it justice, it's out of this world! Which reminds me of one last thing Astro talked about on stage. He spoke of politics and joked that newt Gingrich's plan to put a colony on the moon, was the greatest thing he has heard yet from a candidate. I don't remember his exact phrase, but it was funny. 'Guess you had to be there, huh?