The set began when he walked to center stage suited up in a thin tie and cowboy hat. Behind him hung a string of lights before a red-lit curtain, a Texan flag draped behind the soundboard. Under a single spotlight, he stood alone with his guitar in hand before a loudly welcoming crowd.
He tilted his head back and smiled beneath the brim of his cowboy hat.
From the first drum kick and guitar strum, he had the already energetic audience keyed up as he began the introduction to “Roll the Bones.”
“Oh, yeah. Well, so it goes,” he sang.
And it went beautifully.
In the preview post, I mentioned that Shakey Graves’ rocking country blues sound is surprisingly smooth. Well, I underestimated just how smooth he really is.
Born Alejandro Rose-Garcia, Shakey Graves has the easy sort of grace and stage presence that comes with being comfortable under a spotlight and in your own skin. It was less of a formal show than a laid-back, easy-going get-together with Shakey Graves drawing people in for a bit of fun as he strummed some tunes.
He’s smooth in a way that’s more charming and endearing than slick or suave. It was evident in his ever-present light smile, in how easy he moved to the songs and delivered the lyrics, in the relaxed way he spoke to the crowd between the lines.
Well into the show, his rendition of “Dearly Departed” was another big crowd-pleaser. As soon as the first notes rang throughout the venue, the crowd picked up the opening “ooh ooh” tune and bursts of claps to start it off. He seemed absently surprised, but, by the half grin on his face under the shadow of his cowboy hat, he was clearly pleased.
What was surprising was how fun and just a bit goofy Shakey Graves is live. Listening to And the War Came (2014) feels grave and soulful – think “Only Son” and “Family and Genus.” Though sometimes it is upbeat. But that rings true primarily in the tune layered over heavier lyrics, such as with “Dearly Departed,” which glances back at the sad state of a relationship before a break up.
In contrast, at his live show, Shakey Graves danced a little jig between songs, sang trumpet solos, invited the crowd to sing those trumpet solos with him, and provided funny commentaries mid-song.
He did a throw-back and sang his very first song, “Tomorrow,” which he wrote when he was 16 years old.
“But, baby, you, you never smile,” he sang. “It looks better that way.” Then he paused singing as he continued to strum his guitar and said, “I thought it [smiling] was something you could never fuck up.” He laughed. “Then I found you can fuck up anything you want to!”
But his cool, upbeat vibe doesn’t preclude the fact that he has soul enough to satisfy a huge fan following. Particularly in person, you can feel meaning behind each syllable sung as physically as you can feel the kick drum’s vibrations through the venue.
In the end, he closed the night with a slowed-down rendition of “Hard Wired.” The encore song was a solo run to mirror his entrance, but there is something in the way that he plays the guitar and builds momentum within each song that makes even a slower ballad like “Hard Wired” feel like the grand finale it was.
So, baby, brace for good times.
Oh, do what feels right,
And send me the bill when you tire.
‘Cause I am as I came,
And I’ll still be the same.
Well, I’ve got nothing to blame.
Oh, I was hard wired.
– “Hard Wired”
While he played a protracted acoustic intro., the song picked up in depth and intensity halfway through. He started up that wonderful kick drum beat again to support his unhurried, melodic drawl through the last half of the song.
And goddamn, I felt the hard, last beat of the drum and the end of the show like a heart stop.
Full gallery: Shakey Graves
If you missed Shakey Graves on Tuesday at the 9:30 Club, he’ll also be playing at the following venues over the next week:
3/26: New York, NY @ Irving Plaza
3/27: Brooklyn, NY @ Warsaw
3/28: Boston, MA @ Royale Boston
3/29: Albany, NY @ The Hollow
3/31: Buffalo, NY @ Town Ballroom
4/1: Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Ballroom
4/2 : Ann Arbor, MI @ The Ark
With many of his upcoming shows gearing up to sell out, try checking out this year’s festival lineups. Shakey Graves is heading to Mountain Jam (NY), Bunbury Music Festival (OH), Bonnaroo (TN), and, according to the newly released lineup, Outside Lands Festival (CA).
Trust me, I keep checking out the lineups in hopes of seeing him again.