This Little Underground

Just when I was thinking ;how mild we've had it so far in terms of the summer concert doldrums, the year's most anemic week shows up. Quantity wasn't to be had, but at least there was quality. Check it.


The beat


Indie rapper Astronautalis is testing the elasticity of rap like few would even think to or dare. As his recent performance reaffirmed (Aug. 16, Will's Pub), the former Florida son is beyond the genre and above the game. Despite being basically a one-man track act live, his presence fills the room with a supremely expressive voice and an intensely physical delivery. Each time he performs, he's literate, churning and possessed. Astronautalis has the next-level stuff to shatter hip-hop orthodoxy and, if this were a just world, he would trigger the next revolution in rap.


It's so great that local humorist Joshua Hettel has revived his Cracker Jackson rap persona. Though slightly less grandiose in concept as Astronautalis, his nerdcore sparkles with real style and intellect. He could outthink, out-rap and, yes, out-dance MC Chris and MC Lars all by his skinny-ass self. His opening set was so spilling over with wit that a very solid comedy album could be made just from his extemporaneous ; between-song utterances.


Speaking of comedy, local joke-punk band Awesome & the Ass Kickers played the latest edition of Garage Days (Aug. 17, the Social). They're still all about gimmicks like luchador masks, a light-up "Applause" sign and retarded songs, though I have it on good authority that bassist-vocalist Jose Verga's wheelchair is not one of those gimmicks. The good news is that their comedic timing has gotten much sharper, but musically, they've actually gotten worse; their set was riddled with miscues and wobbly playing. And that's the better news, because it only makes them funnier. Take their theme song, for example, in which they repeatedly chanted "Ass Kickers" with such slop and haste that it came out sounding like "ass kiss." Now, that's comedy gold. Shit, they'd be a home run if they just stopped practicing altogether. Besides, any band that throws in a Johnny Thunders cover is ; all right by me.


Sharing the bill was Gainesville's Cutman, who deal in Neanderthal punk rock bulging with barrel-chested brawn. Far tougher than your typical Gainesville anthem-punk band, their nasty sound is forged in noisy rock barbarism and it's for real.


Later in the week I saw local indie-rockers Mirror Pal (Aug. 20, Plaza Theatre). They're young, talented and enthusiastic, but that can be said about several million other bands. And to be sure, there are many strengths here – technical proficiency, evocative vocals, a willingness to explore – but a lack of focus results in many pretty elements floating around doing their own thing but making little collective impact. You can inject all the ambition into music you want to, but without a well-defined core you've got nothing. They're a reasonably well-regarded band around here, but they need more clarity and maturity to truly be counted as a major player.


And on this night, they didn't have to look any further than Tallahassee headliners Look Mexico for a lesson. Though slightly different in sensibility, both bands are possessed of similar virtues. The difference is that Look Mexico's various elements act in concert with one another. It's what makes them snap, crackle and pop. It's a significantly more considered yet no less effervescent approach.


For no good reason other than schedule conflicts, I've been extremely remiss in my duties when it comes to local gypsy jazz act Cook Trio (Aug. 22, Redlight Redlight). Well, that ends now. I know I almost lost a bunch of you at the word "jazz," but stay with me. Pumping with hot folk blood and textured with a nicely scuffed patina, their music swings, swoons and is so rich in atmosphere that you don't need a Ph.D. in jazz to dig on it – though if you are a jazz-head, Jason Cook's outstanding guitar work will blow you away.


Redlight's sort of their home base. But as well-suited for that bar as they are, the Cook Trio's vibe is virtually tailor-made for a place like Caffe da Vinci, which, by the way, is under new ownership and will be reopening soon (!!!). That's fucking awesome news, because this DeLand jewel is one of the region's most enchanting spots to drink and check out live music.

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