Dessa's Cadence Series with Astronautalis, Lazlo Supreme, and MaLLy
July 9, 2011
The Dowling Studio at the Guthrie Theater, Minneapolis
"I'm so excited," Astronautalis beamed on Saturday night, during one of the many points in his set where he stopped playing music to tell stories and address the intimate crowd. "I'm excited to live here, I'm excited to play in this place, and I'm excited there's this many people here. I'm excited!"
[jump] That same nervous, gracious energy pulsated throughout each of the sets on Saturday night, where a lineup of Twin Cities-based hip-hop acts (including Astronautalis, who recently moved here from Seattle) and spoken word artists performed for the Cadence series, an ongoing Guthrie event curated by writer, singer, rapper, teacher, and poet Dessa.
Each of the three musical acts marveled at getting to play the Guthrie Theater for the first time, an admittedly unusual place for a hip-hop show, but the standing-room-only setting of the Gurthrie's Dowling Studio kept the vibe more casual than expected. It's also worth noting that two of the three acts were fronted by former theater majors, which was pointed out by both Lazlo Supreme bandleader Toussaint Morrison and headliner Astronautalis, though none had set foot inside this particular theater before.
That penchant for performance and presentation was visible in all of the acts' sets, but none more so than Astronautalis, a.k.a. Andy Bothwell, who seemed to be channeling something from beyond the grave as he sputtered and spat his complex, mesmerizing tales of historical fiction to the rapt crowd. Bothwell looked visibly stunned between songs, panting over his laptop and wiping the sweat from his brow as if recovering from a fever dream, at one point shaking his head and muttering "Oh my god" as he snapped out of one song and back into reality. The intensity of his performances made for a dramatic contrast to his charming, confessional stage banter, and the mix of his two kinds of storytelling made for an incredibly engaging, entertaining show.
Bothwell took the opportunity to debut several new tracks off his forthcoming record, This is Our Science, which includes collaborations with P.O.S., Cecil Otter, Lazerbeak, Sims, and Tegan Quin of Tegan & Sara, and though Quin wasn't present to help with the hook on his new single, "Contrails," the song stood out as one of the only pieces to showcase Bothwell's gravely singing voice. "I sound like a dead preacher," Bothwell scoffed before playing the song, taking a sip out of a large glass of bourbon.
Another highlight of the set was a completely improvised freestyle session, in which Bothwell called on the audience to toss out topics before spinning a remarkably coherent tale about Michele Bachmann, the government shutdown, volleyball, beards, vegans, hot dish, and quantum mechanics.
Opener MaLLy kicked off the evening with a set of new songs from his "Free on the 15th" series and his forthcoming album, The Last Great, which is due out this fall, and took the time to rep his favorite radio stations ("I can't stand mainstream radio," he said, "I love the Current, Radio K, and KMOJ"). Lazlo Supreme followed up with a boisterous, bouncing set of danceable hip hop/R&B jams that showcased Morrison's melodic flow and charisma, peaking with a song that showed off his impressive vocal chops and reminded me of the recent collaboration between John Legend and the Roots. And between it all was Dessa, who hosted the evening and introduced short performances by comedic spoken word/slam poets Shane Hawley and Sam Cook.
Personal bias: I was already familiar with the talents of Astronautalis and MaLLy, and was pleasantly surprised by the consistently high-caliber performances by the rest of the acts on the bill.
The crowd: Small but devoted, and especially familiar with Astronautalis's songs.
Overheard in the crowd: "Mark Wheat is here!"
Random notebook dump: I really dug the freestyle verse Toussaint Morrison offered up toward the end of Lazlo Supreme's set, which was dedicated to Doomtree rapper Cecil Otter and ended with the line "Love live the Otter!"
For more photos: Check out our full slideshow by Erik Hess.