Man of Constant Sorrows: Shakey Graves Rips at the Electric Factory

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Shakey Graves | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/
Shakey Graves | Photo by Jeremy Zimmerman | http://jeremy-zim.com/

There’s a lot that can be said of Alejandro Rose-Garcia. The man who hits the under the alias Shakey Graves is certainly no stranger to the limelight, having appeared in movies and television such as Friday Night Lights before moving on to music. Even though Saturday night at the Electric Factory was a far cry from his DIY-esque moments at Union Transfer earlier this year, Graves is still a force to be reckoned with and doesn’t lose an ounce of his irrepressible charm in a room that’s double the size.

After a brisk opening set from Nashville’s Those Darlins and a brief set change from his newfound crew members, Rose-Garcia walked out onstage to the opening bars of “The Circle of Life” from The Lion King—and adoring screams and cheers from the almost-sold-out crowd. He greeted the fans with a series of fist pumps, each getting the audience further and further worked up for the Texan son. The first act of his set didn’t quite capitalize on that anticipatory energy, getting things started off slowly with a pack of deep cuts, from his older yearly releases in celebration of “Shakey Graves Day” (yes, reallyit’s a thing). But seven or eight songs in, when Graves got to “Roll the Bones”arguably his biggest hitthe room was crackling with energy again.

The audience was a live wire in the palm of his hand, and Rose-Garcia used it like a whip, the energy ebbing and flowing and sparking as his songs rose and collapsed in cracking jolts of twang and vocal intensity. Working through his set, the audience hung on every word from his mouth, both spoken and sung. One of the beautiful things about Shakey Graves is the unadulterated (or, if the tale requires, literally adulterated) storytelling. It’s raw and massive and sharp and heavy all at the same time. It’s how he’s still able to play a song that “little 16-year-old shithead me” wrote and make it not only charming in a funny way, but in an emotionally effective way, as wellRose-Garcia dredged up the early track when he was a “bigger, 26-year-old shithead” and it has remained part of his repertoire ever since.

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There’s something communal in that. A celebration of life, in a weird way. “You can fuck anything up if you try hard enough,” says Graves from the stage, in the middle of the set. “Even tonight! You’re probably having a great time, I hope, but like maybe you forgot to feed your little dog and it died or something. Just saying.” Nothing is safe, nothing is sacred. That’s the goddamn truth, and Graves tells it, unapologetically. Life and death are two sides of the same coin, and they’re both serious and funny and worthy of being sung about and cherished.

Bearing down on the end of his set, Graves held nothing back. I counted a solid three mighty leaps off of or over his suitcase drum kit, and that’s not considering the number of times he would stand on the actual drum kit and shred while his drummer Chris Boosahda pounded on the kit. Songs that were normally restrained numbers found new life in the broad strokes of reverb that Shakey and his band would paint them down in. Waves of twang and power heralded a rising star with nowhere to go but up.

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