Shakey Graves, singer-songwriter and one-man band extraordinaire started out as Alejandro Rose-Garcia, simple guitarist from Austin, Texas. Having missed the opportunity to see Shakey Graves in concert before, I was extremely excited to be going to his show in L.A. Although I have only been a fan of his for just over a year now, it was surprising to see how quickly his soulful style of rock ‘n’ roll/blues/folk Americana had risen him in fame. One clue that gave it away was when the original venue had to be moved further downtown to the Belasco Theater in order to accommodate all of the ticket sales. I made my way inside and wove through the crowd until I was right in front of the stage.
Right from the get-go, Rose-Garcia’s charisma was evident. After a few minutes of traipsing the stage and sound-checking guitars, he innocuously walked up to the mic, greeted the audience, and started the show.
Photo Courtesy of Nicole Manguramas
Just as one of the men standing outside after the show so insightfully observed, “there were three incarnations of Shakey Graves up there that [we] saw tonight.” The first was when he initially appeared, playing three songs by himself. Hyped by the beginning of the show and the crowd’s reactions to seeing him onstage, his energy matched ours and kept it at a continuous high. The second was when he brought his band out, a drummer and a second guitarist who amped up the sound and gave Shakey Graves the “full band sound” that you would be hard-pressed to find on YouTube. The third was when he appeared alone again in the middle of the show, calmer and seemingly wiser than when it began. This last solo appearance (before he ended the show with the rest of the band) felt more like a one-on-one with the audience as one entity and Rose-Garcia as the other. The songs were heartfelt and campfire-y, as if we were all sitting around the same flame and simply enjoying each other’s company – and were we not? For Rose-Garcia’s personality and stage presence shone every bit as his musicality did.
Standout songs I enjoyed occurred mostly during that third incarnation, for that was where his talents as a one-man band truly came to light.
Photo Courtesy of Nicole Manguramas
The beautifully nostalgic song ‘Chinatown’ was prefaced with a story of how Rose-Garcia used to live in L.A. and an anecdote about parking ticket-fueled rage that leant itself to a period of prolific songwriting. Halfway through the song, he mumbled, “There’s supposed to be a mouth trumpet part here,” and proceeded to attempt a mouth trumpet solo in such a way that we delighted even though it wasn’t perfect.
“Play ‘Built to Roam!’” yelled out an audience member. Rose-Garcia obliged. This tune, one of his more well-known songs, was executed with a carelessness that can be afforded when a creator knows his machine inside and out. It seemed almost second nature to him to be playing that particular song in front of an audience. “Thank you!” yelled the same audience member when it finished.
His most popular song, a duet with singer-songwriter Esme Patterson named ‘Dearly Departed’ was performed as an audience duet, with his fans eagerly singing/screaming the part of Patterson (myself included).
Rose-Garcia’s encore ‘Hardwired’ came off as more sentimental than the recorded version on his most recent album And the War Came. He performed it solo, and the guitar embellishments along with the melancholy lyrics resulted in a thoughtful, quiet piece that mesmerized the audience and gave a peaceful end to the night.
Photo Courtesy of bandcamp.com
One of my favorite things about Shakey Graves, and what makes it a joy to see him onstage, is that his songs are continuously changing and evolving. Rarely will you find two performances of his that are alike. His creativity knows no bounds, even within the limits of his own writing, and the way each of his songs is performed is a unique experience, probably even for him. I am eagerly looking forward to his next performance, but in the meantime, I will await the release of any recorded music he has to offer.