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Astronautalis at Venue 104: Sing-Alongs, Pizza

If you were searching for a word to describe Astronautalis’ performance last night at Venue 104, look no further than the four letters tattooed on Andy Bothwell’s hand: D-A-N-G.

To preface, this wasn’t my first time seeing Mr. Bothwell. I’d seen him perform a few years ago at the Trunk Space, a small and intimate venue.

Venue 104 – part café, part music venue — is one of the newest additions to the local music scene. It’s true that a venue matters, but the audience and musicians matter the most. They make or break a show. Last night drew a mixed crowd — mostly teenagers and young adults, and even a couple of children.

DJ Hartbreaks started the evening spinning a collection of hits, mostly spanning the hip-hop genre. Think Drake, Q-tip, Grandmaster Flash, The Notorious B.I.G., and Dizzee Rascal.

But the audience seemed perplexed by his presence. A stranger next to me asked, “Is this guy the opening act or what?”

“Yes,” I responded. After a few minutes, he turned to me again and added, “Do you know Girl Talk? It’s like he’s trying to do that, except he’s not that good.”

How do you respond to a DJ playing in an environment that has enough space for dancing but doesn’t give off a dance-friendly vibe? That seemed to be the question that puzzled the concertgoers, making the atmosphere reminiscent of an 8th grade social – awkward.

I suppose it didn’t help that Hartbreaks played a set that lasted for more than an hour.

Towards the end, a crowd formed. It’s hard to say whether this was people realizing how mint DJ Hart is, or just trying to secure a good spot for the upcoming acts.

Hartbreaks put on an admirable set, but perhaps everything is best in moderation.

Matthias The War took the stage shortly after and played a 25-minute set. The audience seemed more alert as they watched the young rapper pace the stage. Between songs he interacted with the crowd.

“Anyone ever find it hard to laugh?” he asked. Apparently not.

When Matthias mispronounced “Astronautalis,” the audience seemed to humor in it, correcting his mistake. “I pronounce half my shit wrong,” he admitted.

Despite his pronunciation fumble, Matthias was well received by the audience. He ended with a new song titled “Birds,” and before leaving the stage, said “Astronautalis” correctly.

Astronautalis, backed by a band comprised of Chris Reisman, Oscar Romero and Derek Gierhan, was next.

The audience cheered as Bothwell, dressed in a button-down shirt with rolled sleeves, dark denim, and boots, approached the mic. He didn’t hesitate to begin with “The River, The Woods,” the opening track from This Is Our Science.

Fans instantly began singing along, much to Bothwell’s delight. He noted that he’d played for larger crowds and smaller crowds, but none that knew the words like the Tempe crowd. At moments it seemed like a who-can-scream-the-lyrics-the-loudest-and-get-Astronautalis’-attention contest.

Bothwell dedicated most of this set, which lasted a little more than an hour, to tracks from his newest release. He described “Measure the Globe” as a “heart-filled ballad” and followed that with a track he said was going to be “really damn loud,” “Dimitri Mendeleev.”

Astronautalis did cover some of his song archive and apologized for not being able to play all of the songs from his four albums.

He made sure to include “Short Term Memory Loss,” a request by his youngest fan in the audience, a six-year-old girl.

Throughout his performance, Bothwell engaged in conversation with his fans. He covered important topics such as nachos and pizza. At one point he came off of the stage and into the audience. He set some ground rules – be mindful of the children and small ladies in the group – and then told everyone to get loud and crazy. They did.

As his set came to a close, Astronautalis took requests for his signature freestyle – nothing he’s rapped about before, nothing someone else has rapped about, and nothing that would get him arrested (he wanted to save that experience for Vegas). Tim “The Toolman” Taylor, pizza babies, Mark Reynolds, Chuck E. Cheese’s, “being the Bob Hope of Afghanistan,” and Spongebob (from the six year old) made the cut. Midgets, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and “I like labia” did not. The result was a weird, hungered, and absolutely fantastic freestyle.

Bothwell was pleased to have a side stage at Venue 104 and decided to make use of it for an encore game.

“After this next song, no clapping or cheering,” he said. “Or we’ll jump in our helicopter and go to Vegas.”

He told the audience that when the song was over, the band would leave the stage, and the audience was to look to the side stage for a hand that would count out 1-2, 1-2-3-4 and on 4, they were to yell, “BORINGGGGGGGG!”

“This next song is called ‘Short Term Memory Loss,’” said Astronautalis. For a moment the audience and band looked confused. Bothwell laughed, realizing what he had said and joked about having had short-term memory loss at that moment. “This is our last song,” he said while winking. “It’s called ‘Secrets On Our Lips.’”

When the song was over, a few people in the audience began to cheer, but were quickly shushed by others. The band left the stage and Bothwell’s tattooed hand popped out from behind the black curtain on the left-hand side of the stage. He put one finger up, then two, and a few people from the audience began to say “boring.” Bothwell shook his hand to stop the noise and began again. This time he made it through the count and at 4, the crowd roared, “BORINGGGGGGGGG!”

Astronautalis skipped on stage with a smile on his face and played two more songs – “The Wordsmith and His Sons” and “The Case of William Smith.”

By the end of the night, Bothwell’s shirt was soaked in sweat. He told the audience that he was going to change shirts and then go to the merch table to high five his fans until their hands bled. Most of the crowd stuck around to exchange words, get an autograph, and take pictures with Bothwell, who was humble and friendly as could be.

If you missed Astronautalis this time, don’t worry. He’ll be back, “between today and the end of the world.” His words, not mine.

View more photos from the evening on The Spec‘s Flickr.


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