Many people underestimate Winona, the small Minnesota town I attend college in. However, over the past year this small town, surrounded by bluffs and the Mississippi, has led me to many wonderful things. It led me to marvelous people, a passion for writing that I was not sure I possessed, and most importantly, a selection of music that I never knew existed. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Astronautalis this Spring, a hip-hop artist native of Jacksonville, FL, when they headlined Winona’s infamous Midwest Music Festival.
A week later, Astronautalis announced that he would be performing with Sims, a one-time opportunity, at First Avenue in Minneapolis in June. My friends and I hopped on tickets like mosquitoes on a humid July night—if you are from the Midwest, you know what I mean.
After a lengthy tour in Europe performing in the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Germany, Switzerland and even France, Minneapolis, MN welcomed home Astronautalis and his full band in early June.
I was ecstatic for the chance to see Astronautalis and his band live again. After attending Soundset, an annual legendary hip-hop concert in Shakopee, MN that drew a whopping crowd of 27,000 this year, I did not think I would ever attend a concert with more impressive energy. However after First Ave. Friday night, I can now confidently say otherwise.
The night started with Greg Grease, a South Minneapolis rapper whose most recent album, Cornbread, Pearl and G, found itself on multiple best album lists from the Twin Cities. Following Greg Grease was Mixed Blood Majority, a newly formed group including Crescent Moon of Kill the Vultures, Joe Horton of No Bird Sing, and Lazerbeak of Doomtree.
Astronautalis and Sims brought all the energy of Soundset and concerts alike, to a mind blowing two-hour performance.
With Astronautalis’ full band, Oscar Romero on bass, Mo Bluntz on drum set and Dustin Kiel, along with Lazerbeak of Doomtree on soundboard, the two rappers were backed up by eclectic beats and a marvelous array of talent.
Their set opened with “Future Shock” from Sims newest album Bad Time Zoo and then the two switched roles. Astronautalis took the lead for “The River, the Woods”, also from his newest album, This is Our Science. The night continued on in this flip-flop manner—Sims would perform one of his songs and then Astronautalis would take the lead for the next one.
The night included a surprise appearance by P.O.S. and Mike Mictlan of Doomtree. Mike Mictlan ran out on stage and pointed proudly to the patches on his vest that spelled out “Bangarang”. The crowd went wild. Bangarang, a song from Doomtree’s newest album No Kings, left the crowd buzzing and it only added to the energy surmounting in the concert venue.
While Sims and Astronautalis separately are superb hip-hop artists, the energy and stage presence created by the two together is akin to the goddess that would be produced as a love child between Beyonce and Adele or perhaps the tennis guru that would be created between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal.
However, what really made the two click was the obvious bromance they shared.
Between songs, the rappers were like giddy children, smiling widely and punching each other on the arm. It was the biggest concert either has ever performed as a solo artist and they were obviously quite proud of their accomplishment.
About half way through the concert, Astronautalis gazed out at the nearly 1,500 people that packed the venue and gave what can only be called a profession of love to the city of Minneapolis.
“I moved to Minneapolis two years ago and within two years—this. There were two kinds of people when I moved here…some said why Minneapolis? And then there were the people who’d been to Minneapolis who went ‘Yea dude, totally!’ Turns out, group two was right. Group one needs to get their fucking ass up here. So now that we’re all friends, now that we’re all bonded, now that I’ve told you how much I love you guys, this song is about how I’m going to take all your stuff tonight and kill you all,” Astronautalis said.
While the artists admitted that the concert had been an idea formed over whiskey six months earlier, it was clear the make-shift band had put in a lot of effort. As an audience member, you felt like you were attending a concert of a band that regularly performs together rather than two fantastic artists that threw a sensational concert. For that’s what the concert truly was—superb (and might I add, so were Sims dance moves).
While I don’t think the audience would have been happy with any finale, as it meant the end of the concert, Sims and Astronautalis brought the night to a close with a new collaborative song, “This is the Place”, released in early May. This song was created as a result of Astronautalis moving in with Sims after a fire claimed his home in January. Featuring the two on vocals and Cecil Otter on production, the song was without a doubt one of the biggest hits of the concert.
The song itself embodies the yogic concept of living in the presence. Sims said himself that like others, he’s always waiting for what is in the future.
“And so I started thinking about this idea of being sentimental for a future that hasn’t happened yet, and sort of designing something for yourself, like that’s going to be better…but everything is ok right here. This is the place. This is exactly where you’re supposed to be, right now,” said Sims. (Full interview here)
However, the echoes of the crowd and cries for an encore tell me one thing—that while we may all be waiting for more collaborative works between Astronautalis and Sims, there’s nowhere these two will be going from here except for up.