By Brent Hill
October 23, 2014
Perhaps it was the perfect pacing of the setlist or maybe it was the cast of charismatic musicians or it could have been the vaudevillian-like stage banter, but Sunday night’s sold out Shakey Graves show at the Visulite felt as much like musical theater as it did a concert.
Google “Shakey Graves” and prepare to spend hours (maybe even days) mesmerized by Youtube videos of the one man band and his tricked out kickdrum carry-on. He was hobo-folk chic before there was a hobo-folk chic. If there’s even such a thing as hobo-folk chic (who comes up with this stuff).
Next, google “Alejandro Rose-Garcia” and you’ll spend just as many hours watching the 26 year-old who calls himself Shakey Graves command screen time in movies like Spy Kids 3D (Codename: Edog) and acclaimed TV series like “Friday Night Lights” (Codename: Swede). Rose-Garcia has a resume that most young actors would kill for. Does the fact that he’s an actor impact his role as a musician? It better.
It’s his acting background that lends Shakey Graves’ live shows (and his excellent new album: And the War Came) a certain charm that puts his brand of electroshocked folk rock above his bearded contemporaries. For most fans, a concert is about more than the music. And Rose-Garcia knows this. It’s about a show. It needs characters and conflict. It needs parody and pratfalls. A great concert tells a story. And this is the story of a great concert:
A plaid and Stetson-clad Rose-Garcia strolls onto the stage alone. The enthusiastic audience, a nice blend of professional and amateur concert-goers, young and old, roars when Rose-Garcia walks on stage. The man has rabid fans– that’s for sure. A sold out show on a Sunday in Charlotte (and Elevation Church doesn’t count). That’s not the norm.
Garcia-Rose, humbled by the fawning crowd, turns on his aw-shucks charm, gives his Luggage Drum 2.0 a swift kick in its shiny red sides, and launches into “Word of Mouth” off his Lubbock Sessions album. The soulful sloshiness of his voice juxtaposed with the sharp crackle of his guitar signals his transformation: Goodbye Alejandro. Hello Shakey Graves!
But great actors and musicians know how to share the stage and screen. So Shakey has brought friends with him– a talented contingency of Austin musicians. And they are all part of the act. A traveling troupe of players up for anything.
Three songs in Shakey asks if anyone in the crowd knows how to play “Only Son’ off the new record. Someone’s hand shoots up in the pit. A volunteer. Shakey invites a bespectacled young man up to the stage. The young man nervously picks up a guitar. There are introductions: “Hey, I’m Pat everyone.” There are instructions: “Hey Pat, I’m going to start off on my own. You join in anytime and just play along.” Shakey starts playing. The crowd smiles. The crowd chants Pat’s name (Pat, Pat, Pat, Pat…). This is amazing! What are the chances?
Amazement turns to confusion as Pat plays the song with veteran precision. By the time Pat and Shakey hit the chorus, there is a realization that Pat is part of the act, not some random, lucky fan from the pit. The bit worked. The crowd laughs. Shakey and Pat continue the joke throughout the remainder of the set. A running joke at a concert? This is new. Pat stays for a few songs. Pat leaves for a few songs. Pat comes back for a few songs. All the while Pat remains in character, fumbling his way backstage like the hapless Pat we all knew from the pit.
In the midst of the Pat party, the lovely Esmè Patterson of the band Paperbirds joins Shakey on the stage. He takes a moment to sing Happy “Future” Birthday to Esmè. They engage in some type of robot dance. There’s some freestyle rapping. It’s a cute, intimate moment between friends. They sing the hell out of “Wild Card.”
Esmè exits stage left. The band enters stage right. Shakey is alone. Then the band is back. It’s a dizzying display of choreography — dreamlike in its execution. All rehearsed (probably) but never forced. There’s a wild game of stump the drummer with his “Boy Boo” on the bluesy barnburner “Perfect Parts.” Cue the beautiful Esmè again for the climatic “Dearly Departed.” The crowd sings and sways. The fourth wall comes down and the crowd dances in the rubble.
All this theater is grounded in one thing: the music. Shakey serves up a grunge garnished blend of folk, blues, jazz, and soul that will undoubtedly have the Grammy sharks circling (you heard it here first folks). It’s astounding how one man can mate so many different breeds of music and create a sound that has as much bite as it does bark.
Perhaps Rose-Garcia invented Shakey Graves to kill time on set between takes or perhaps Shakey was there all along– just waiting for the right stage to tell his story. Either way, it’s all part of the kick-ass act.
Listen to new album “And The War Came” by Shakey Graves