Lately, it seems like every time I encounter the DIY pop scene, Andy Cook’s name comes up, whether his band the Wanderloons is opening for Tin Armor in a basement or The Sidekicks’ Matt Scheuermann is recalling the days he spent with Cook recording an album for his solo project American War.
Most recently based out of Oberlin, this year Cook followed in the footsteps of those friends and collaborators by relocating to Columbus, joining the steady stream of Northeast Ohio talent that has opted to trek down I-71 to plug in more directly with what’s happening here.
Last Saturday, the happening of choice for that segment of the scene was at 83 Gallery, where the creative collective known as the Peach District was unveiling a local music jukebox funded by a ComFest grant. Cook was closing out a full day of performers, so I decided to see what he was all about.
I was hoping Cook’s rotating cast of Wanderloons would also be on hand, including Eric Cronstein, another Cleveland-area import who recorded the latest Tin Armor and Saintseneca albums at his new studio The Tone Shoppe. But this gig was solo, so Cook’s songs and persona would be laid bare to scrutiny without the usual fanfare.
He passed the first test, when a blown amplifier fuse cut off his first song and sent him scurrying into a fit of improvised finger picking. He continued to prove himself quick on the draw, be it responding to a sneeze in the crowd by working an impromptu “God bless you” into a song or mugging when he saw me attempting to snap a photo. His presence was buoyant but low-key, frequently goofing around but never overbearing or obnoxious.
The tunes were well-sculpted little ditties with a romantic tilt — big-picture folk-pop about love and how we’re all in this together. Cook occasionally diverged into period folk tunes that meshed well with the Decemberists flavor in his voice and the old-fashioned pop craftsmanship that positioned him as a less avant-garde cousin to Dane Terry and Andrew Graham.
He ended with his best song of the night, a minor-key number that left me feeling reflective in the best sense and eager to hear him with his band.