Astronautalis shines more brilliantly than ever

Written by Scott Mervis on .

astronautalisA rainy Tuesday night at the Garfield Artworks. A crowd of more than more 35, including the open acts, gathers in the long, dark room for what turns out to be one of the most intense performances they'll see all year.

I've been a fan of Astronautalis since 2004 when I wandered into the hip-hop tent at the Warped Tour and saw this amazing Jacksonville freestyler with an indie-rock aesthetic. At the time, he was just releasing "You and Yer Good Ideas" on Fighting Records (the same label as our own Grand Buffet). The more fleshed-out followup, "The Mighty Ocean and Nine Dark Theaters," was my "album of the year" in 2006 and it still blows me away with its poetry and surprising musical twists every time I hear it.

Although I wrote a glowing preview, Garfield Artworks was pretty empty when he stopped on that tour, too. He keeps coming back, even though few people show up. If ever there were an under-publicized artist, it's Astronautalis.

But crowd size has no impact on his performance. On Tuesday night, backed by a DJ, the theater grad soaked through his white T-shirt and violently swiped at his flushed red face with a handkerchief as he gyrated and contorted through songs that fall somewhere between Atmosphere, Modest Mouse and Tom Waits -- yes, he can sing like that when he wants to.

Along with reaching back for the bloody rich narrative of "My Dinner with Andy" and punching out the rocker "Trouble Hunters" (from the new "Promegranate"), Astronautalis stunned the crowd with his freestyle ritual. Asking for random topics from the crowd, he got Ecco the Dolphin, Sustainable Urban Outfitters, Russian Literature and "Drew Carey's liposuction" and instantly turned into it a coherent and hilarious rap song. (Tell me he's going to release these someday.)

Before leaving the stage, he graciously thanked just about every person in the room, and never expressed any complaint about the crowd size or the small take at the door.

After the show, he mentioned that he is working on a project with P.O.S. and might be with him on the Warped Tour when it stops here in July.

Someday, inevitably, Astronautalis (Andy Bothwell) is going to break in a big way -- as a rapper, rocker, actor, whatever --and these barren nights in Garfield will seem like a weird dream.

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