Review: Yes, I finally saw Shakey Graves so please stop asking

Shakey Graves is the guy everyone in Austin has a story about – how they used to see him at this tiny place back in the day that you’ve never heard of; how he totally played a house party they were at; how he used to practice in the garage behind their friend’s girlfriend’s house and they heard him all the time.

True story*: DeVotchKa used to practice in a garage behind one of my friend’s houses in Denver and I totally heard them all the time.

Shakey Graves is also the guy all of my non-Austinite friends are obsessed with knowing whether I’ve seen yet or not. So yeah, I have, now please stop asking me.

Shakey Graves by Joseph Llanes

Shakey Graves (photo by Joseph Llanes)

Shakey Graves is the stage name of Alejandro Rose-Garcia, a real-life, actual Austin musician. His first album Roll the Bones was released in 2011 but his second from 2014, And the War Came, is the one that’s really getting him a lot of attention. Rose-Garcia’s style is pretty interesting – something along the lines if garage rock had been born in Texas, heavily influenced by a folk or Americana sound. The country man’s Jack White, if you will. But what I also really like about it is Rose-Garcia’s ability to abruptly change tempos, volumes and styles within the same song. In the hands of someone less suitable it might come off as fragmented or uneven, but with Rose-Garcia it’s jumpy in a good way.

The show I finally saw him play at was the KUTX 2nd Birthday Bash, which was in the Bass Concert Hall on the UT Austin Campus, which is flippin’ HUGE. This place seats 2900. So well done, KUTX, because it was mostly full and was not cheap…although there were three great acts so really, the prices were probably worth it. Plus, public radio, so blah blah blah and all that. KUTX is actually pretty awesome and plays great stuff from Austin musicians and others, so I actually don’t have anything to complain about here. It was a great show.

“How big is it, and how poor are you?” I hear you asking. This is how big and this is how far away I was:


But the sound was really great, even if the stage was WAY too big for the acts on that night, including Shakey Graves. He started solo with just his acoustic guitar, but he also played percussion with his feet – think a bass drum centered in a suitcase plus a tambourine, both played with a pedal. I’ve been seeing more and more solo musicians doing this in the past few years, and it’s kind of great. Also, the guy next to me told me he (Rose-Garcia) made it himself, and how he could possibly know this is beyond me unless he actually knows Rose-Garcia, in which case the guy would have TOTALLY told me he knew him because everyone knows him. Except me, apparently.

Later Shakey Graves was joined by another guitarist and drummer, but both ways, his sound was surprisingly full for what he was playing with. He came off as really fresh and energetic, which is amazing considering he’s been on tour for ages and probably will be for the foreseeable future. Maybe it was the excitement of being back in Austin and playing such a huge venue. He actually told kind of a sweet story about how his dad had worked for the Bass Concert Hall when Rose-Garcia was a kid and he wasn’t allowed anywhere near the stage when his dad was up there, and now he was up there performing, which was really cool. IMG_20150131_195343978Actually, I think he finished the story with “So, suck it!” which is the modern equivalent of being really grateful and humbled to be in that place. I think. At least, that’s how I use that phrase.

As for the music, I prefer his darker stuff, like this:

But in general, he was really engaging and his music is definitely finding a well-deserved audience. Performance-wise, he still has that sheen of Holy shit, I can’t believe I’m getting paid to play music. He was professional but definitely not polished, especially when compared to other musicians who have been playing venues like this a bit longer. There was still a bit of tomfoolery going on on stage and some bumpy transitions which wouldn’t be terribly noticeable in smaller venues but do stand out at a place with this many eyes on you, sitting patiently, straightforward and not nearly drunk enough, awaiting your next song.

And unfortunately his most popular song right now is a duet with Esme Patterson (who’s actually a Denver girl — obligatory shout-out! — plus she’s probably heard DeVotchka practice in her friend’s garage LOADS of times) but Esme Patterson is actually not IN Shakey Graves, which makes performing his most popular song a bit difficult. So before he played it, he took solicitations from the audience from anyone who knew the part really well so they could join him and if not, the audience could just fill in. Something like this tends to be charming in small settings, or even in larger ones where you have a big following (like him in Austin) but I can see how this could come off as clunky in other places. Plus, a solo of version of “Dearly Departed” could be amazing — re-worked versions of the most popular single kind of keep a set fresh, you know? I think he could do something cool with it.

It’s still nice to see a musician whom by all accounts is incredibly talented but still incredibly nice, and has earned all the success he’s building. Seriously, it seemed that everyone in that concert hall knew him and said he was just an awesome guy. Dude knows 2900 people. Well, except for me, so really that’s only like, 2,899 people. But I like any man who’s got a waltz on his album.

Check out his newest album here.

Upcoming tour dates here.

Also playing that night: tUnE-yArDs and Jenny Lewis.

*Not a true story.

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