FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 16 — In seven days Minneapolis rapper Astronautalis would be in Moscow, Russia, then on a month-long US tour with Busdriver and Jel, throwing down his unique blend of hyperliterate lyrics, diverse instrumentation, and dynamic onstage presence. But first he stopped off at The Garage for warm-up and salute to the scene.
Local acts opened, displaying not only honed talent, but deftly crafted songs.
Karizma came across as a practiced soul, likely bolstered—as his Facebook boasts—by having shared a stage with Brother Ali, St. Paul Slim, and Asher Roth. He quickly found his groove, shedding his sweatshirt and his words like water.
Bomba de Luz mixed funk, rock, and folk for a musical base, over which, singer and rhythm guitarist Lydia Hoglund’s voice often sounded as if she channeled jazz standards of another time. They play often. Given the chance, see them.
The crowd swelled as the screen finally raised for Astronautalis, revealing him and DJ Plain Ole Bill. For those uninitiated to Astronautalis, his style’s difficult to fully capture. Part rapper, part Classics professor, part indie scene hero with the stage banter of a veteran stand-up comic. From curtain up to curtain down, Astronautalis held the audience outside of time and place.
A group of superfans upfront knew the words to a song Astronautalis had yet to record or even title. They’d choreographed a dance, as Astronautalis pointed out, reminiscent of a Scottie Pippen fadeaway. He inspires people like that.
Between the songs “Dimitri Mendeleev” and “Thomas Jefferson” Astronautalis’ vocals traveled from spoken word to rapid fire rap to gravel throated growls and howls that’d be right at home in a post-hardcore band.
But mostly his appeal is his sincerity. He commits to every song—his bulging carotid, the vein bisecting his forehead, the sweat glistening on his arms.
A staple of Astronautalis shows is his freestyling to audience suggestions. Those at The Garage threw out, “Jimi Hendrix,” “the letter K,” “Lake Street,” “Billy Joel,” “Ramses,” and “Aurora Borealis.” And rap about them he did to Plain Ole Bill’s selection: P.O.S’s “Get Down.” It was one of the most impressive displays of wit and skill I’ve seen at any show.
Before his last song, Astronautalis paused to thank the fans for coming out and The Garage for hosting.
“When I announced this show,” Astonautalis said, “all my friends on Facebook were like, ‘Really? The Garage? I always used to go there in high school.’” He continued, “I had a place like this too, in Jacksonville, which isn’t as cool as Minneapolis. That’s not pandering, because that’s why I don’t live there anymore…But it closed when I was a sophomore in high school and the music scene died. It died. That’s why places like [The Garage] are so, so, so important.”
All photos © Justin Poppens