View From the Front Row, 10/12/11
A few nights ago, I had the pleasure of seeing Astronautalis live at Thee Parkside with local SF rock bands Rustangs and Crescent Banks as the opening acts. The San Francisco date of Astronautalis' tour was nearly passed up due to no venue being down to book him, but a friend of mine hooked things up with Thee Parkside despite the short notice and I promptly promoted the crap out of it. I was worried that the turnout would be minimal due to the lack of time to properly get the word out about the event, but good news travels fast and there were a lot of excited Astronautalis fans up in Thee Parkside come showtime. A lot of different Bay area homies of mine rolled out to this one too, which made things extra fun.
Things started on a bit of an awkward note with the opening acts. Both Crescent Banks and Rustangs did their things, but it was hard to get anyone in the crowd to care about them as most folks in attendance were busy buzzing about Astronautalis to one another. I'd seen Crescent Banks play before opening for David Ramos and Tommy V. in Half Moon Bay, and they have a cool laid back style of indie rock that incorporates lots of horns and keyboards. They did a bunch of nice numbers, but the crowd reception wasn't nearly as good as the one at Old Princeton Landing, though I still showed'em some support from the front. Rustangs were considerably noisier and grimier than Crescent Banks, and seemed like a band that'd feel more comfortable opening for one of my friends' extra loud punk bands than any crazed indie rap type. They had a couple numbers that made me smile from the front as well, though without my ear plugs I doubt I'd have been able to hear by the end of their set!
Once the openers were done, the room started filling up with tons of eager people who had been hanging around the outskirts of the venue or near the back of the bar. I had heard many tales of Astronautalis' live show, but this was my first time witnessing it with my own eyes, and I must say that it lived up to all expectations. For starters, Astronautalis (or Andy, as he introduced himself) was quite the charismatic figure on stage. Even when he wasn't singing or rapping with his trademark intensity, there was a certain flair to his demeanor and the way that he addressed the crowd that was both friendly and sincere. Astronautalis had a band backing him up that consisted of a guitarist, a drummer, and a dude playing the sample/drum pads that happened to be Nobs of Brooklyn's praised hip hop duo Dez & Nobs. The band offered some awesome live spins on Astronautalis' songs that added new elements to the tracks while staying fairly close to the originals, and Astronautalis tackled each song with the ferocity or gentleness they deserved. He covered many songs from his new album "This is Our Science," including "The River, The Woods," "This is Our Science", "Measure the Globe" and "Midday Moon." Astronautalis also occasionally tossed improvised verses into the ends of his songs while the band played on, including a verse about Thee Parkside and attacking people's cellphones in the front row, which he referenced after an extra rowdy rendition of "Thomas Jefferson" caused a gal to drop her iPhone (it wasn't damaged). That freestyling was already pretty impressive, but heads were reeling in awe and disbelief when Astronautalis went into the freestyle segment of his set, where he took five extremely strange and obscure topics from the crowd and formed a song about them. This evening's topics included "Al Davis reincarnated as an iPhone 5," "Supernovas," "Ulysses by James Joyce" (my topic), "Talking Heads" and "Being a black woman living in San Francisco listening to house music" amongst others. What was amazing about this part of Astronautalis' performance is that he not only rapped about all of the topics with great flows on beat, but also that he formed entire verses with details about each topic in his head rather than just incorporating the words as most rappers do in these sorts of freestyle showcases. It must take a seriously wild imagination for a white guy from Florida to come up with that many lines about being a black woman living in San Francisco listening to house music on the spot. Near the end of his set, Astronautalis played two of my favorite songs from his new album, "Holy Water" and "Secrets on Our Lips," and while they were great the pinnacles of his set were elsewhere. "Dmitri Mendeleev" was one of the major highlights in the way that it skyrocketed with energy, with the beat building massively and the hook and verses getting the crowd extremely lively and enthusiastic. Another such highlight was one of Astronautalis' older numbers, "Trouble Hunters," which in my opinion was the greatest moment of the set. The anthemic quality of the song and hook was so strong that Astronautalis hopped off stage and cut the track for a moment, moving to the center of the crowd and laying down rules for the last minute of the song so that none of the short timid girls in his fanbase would get hurt. When the track came back on, he had the entire Parkside jumping up and down in mass and screaming along to the words. So memorable that the moment still echoes through my spirit, even after having seen a couple shows since then. Once Astronautalis' set was done, he was drenched in sweat with a satisfied look in his eyes, mirrored only by the jubilant look of the crowd.
Fantastic show, don't pass on the chance to see this guy live. A little footage of "Secrets on Our Lips" below though I was busy dancing for the most part. I saw an awful lot of people in the crowd filming this entire show on their cameras and phones... if you'd like to share some of it, I'd love to see it! Just put links in the comments section below.