“So much for a quiet evening at home” I thought to myself as I saw the car pull up out front. The guys never bothered to call first, but it wasn’t really necessary since I’m usually at home anyway. It was a Wednesday night in October, where else would I be? “Let’s go to a show” they said. “Get ready, we’re leaving now.” For whatever reason, I decided to go.
We headed downtown and I soon found myself in the familiar territory of the arts district. We pulled up next to a small gallery that had been built as a brick house many years ago, but had been remodeled into a gallery and venue. The name was, of course, the Modified Arts.
Admission was cheap, it must have been six or eight bucks. The wooden floorboards creaked under my feet as we found a place to stand. Hardly anybody was here, save for the two guys setting up their gear on stage. One looked pretty normal and had a red-to-green striped guitar strap that really stood out. The other fellow wore a pilot’s cap and goggles that looked reminiscent of a bygone era, as if he had just flown in on a biplane or something.
They announced their name as Electric President, and launched into a cacophony of noise combining guitars, pedals, and a laptop for a truly unique sound. Think of The Postal Service but less polished. The songs were mellow but interesting and I enjoyed their set. I wouldn’t insult them by calling them “experimental.”
Next up was the headline act: Astronautalis. Now I’d never heard of this guy but the others swore by him; they had seen him at the Warped Tour a few years ago and were just blown away by his act. I really had no idea what to expect when the skinny white guy with the gray sweatshirt, jeans, and crooked trucker hat took to the stage. He had a DJ in the back working an honest-to-goodness turntable, which I can appreciate.
We heard a couple of songs and they weren’t bad at all. The lyrics flowed from this guy like water from a mountain spring – they were clear and fast and endless. Singing songs about making out and eating donuts with Tupac (yes, that Tupac) in such a way as to communicate the feeling of nostalgia without actually saying the word was what he accomplished.
As good as the music was, the real treat was the freestyle rap. It looks cool when they battle in the pseudo-biographical movie “8 Mile” with Eminem, but this guy does it for real. No script, no editing, no outtakes or second chances. Astronautalis would take five or six random topics from the audience and weave them into an entertaining tale of rhyme and comedy, while rapping over a Tom Waits record. There was an excellent one about Ninja Turtles, Total Recall, Laser Discs, and some other funny stuff.
For taking a gamble on a small weeknight show, I’d have to say I lucked out big time. Both artists were impressive and I really enjoyed their music. After the show, Astronautalis was kind enough to sign a record my friend bought, take some pictures, and chat with us long enough that it almost became awkward. Now that’s dedication.