When your performance goes through a massive change, whether its new songs, new surroundings, or new band members, it can take some time to get used to. For Astronautalis, though, the transition from a solo show to having a full band behind him has improved every aspect of his live act, and he proved this on Saturday night at Santos Party House, where excited fans witnessed him tear through songs both new and old alike. With two extremely talented opening acts to boot, you arguably have one of the best tours currently on the road.
Two Lights unlocked the night, though they weren’t in unfamiliar territory as the rock band call New York City home. While the venue was still filling up, the four man ensemble easily captured people’s attention with their catchy songs and impressive guitar work. Keyboardist Abner Willis seamlessly transitioned between the keyboard, guitar, and vocals, showing off his diverse talents while his brother Harper played lead guitar and took over vocal duties on several of the songs. Behind it all, bassist Ryan Gross filled out their sound with a steady, propulsive rhythm. They weren’t an opener that you would have expected for an act like Astronautalis, but it didn’t matter; they had the kind of sound that any music fan would enjoy.
Photo by Dana Grossman
While Two Lights’ performance was great, the next act was more in line with Astronautalis’ style. A member of the Minneapolis hip hop collective Doomtree, Sims is a straight-up rapper who discusses serious issues but in an upbeat, party-like way. From the moment he hit the stage to the moment he left, everyone was moving. Sims dominated the small stage, running over every inch of it as he spat out blistering, kinetic rhymes. The stage wasn’t enough for him, though. He ran out into the crowd several times, getting everyone around him jumping and screaming. With fellow Doomtree member Paper Tiger supplying the beats, Sims raced through song after song without losing his breath or place in the rapid rhythm. By the time his set finished, most of the crowd started begging for an encore.
After a short break, Astronautalis waltzed on stage to start the set everyone had been looking forward to. For those of you who have seen him before this current tour, it’s not the same show you might remember. Gone is the case of one man rapping and singing over a backing track. Astronautalis now has a band, complete with guitar, drums, backing vocals, and a laptop. If you haven’t seen this artist yet, go to a concert as soon as possible. You’ll see one of the most furiously energetic, infectious live performances out there. The band started the set with a new song about alchemy before swinging straight into two Pomegranate tracks back-to-back. “The Wondersmith and His Sons” had the entire crowd singing along as Astronautalis threw himself off the stage. “The Case of William Smith” was stripped down for the first half with the whole band kicking in at full force for the remainder of the song.
It continued on like this throughout the night; unreleased song played alongside old favorites and rarities. The new tracks varied in every way, from the style to the format to the tone. The only thing that wasn’t different was the audience’s reaction, which ate it up with rapturous applause. As for his back catalogue, the addition of a live band allowed the rapper to try some songs that he felt would “sound stupid” with just him and a laptop, such as “Barrel Jumping (A Man of Letters)” from 2006’s The Might Ocean & Nine Dark Theaters. Probably the biggest highlight of the set came towards the end of the concert. Astronautalis invited Sims up on stage to perform a new track together, but he was nowhere to be found. Instead, the band slammed into a riotous performance of “Trouble Hunters”. Right as the song appeared to end, Sims showed up and the two rappers had an astounding back-and-forth performance of the new track. Once he left, Astronautalis started talking about how awesome Sims is before screaming out “One, two, three, four!” as the band exploded into the final chorus of “Trouble Hunters”. It doesn’t get much better than that.
All of the above is more than enough to make an excellent show. But there was the added bonus of Astronautalis’ trademark freestyle raps. For every concert, he takes a few suggestions from the audience and forms a rap off the top of his head. These aren’t your average, everyday topics, either. On Saturday, he combined The Goonies, Robocop, Hip-Hop Hell, Odd Future, Peter Fonda, a day in the life of Gary Busey, and stalking Whitney Houston’s pets over the course of two freestyles. The only downside was the poor mix Santos Party House supplied. Despite repeated requests for louder audio, the vocals were muddled among the other instruments. At one point, though, he stopped the music completely and rapped with silence to make sure the crowd could hear what he had to say.
By night’s end, the crowd left Santos Party House exhausted. Between rocking out to Two Lights, dancing with Sims, and the pure energy of Astronautalis’ performance, it was difficult not to be tired upon leaving the venue. Definitely the good kind of tired, though, where you wake up the next morning feeling refreshed…and in this case, with some albums in mind to get.
The Wondersmith and His Sons
The Case of William Smith
Xmas in July
Barrel Jumping (A Man of Letters)
Measure the Globe
Untitled new song with Sims
Short Term Memory Loss
Photography by Dana Grossman.
Gallery by Dana Grossman