Shakey Graves paid Berlin his second visit (and first with a full band) at his sold-out show on Wednesday. The rarity in which he plays over on this side of the pond lent the evening real sense of occasion, and Privatclub was packed out and buzzing before support act Cat Clyde even took the stage.
The Canadian upstart’s sound oscillates between southern blues and smokey beat-era jazz, while her powerful Joplin-esque voice had the crowd hanging off her every word. It was good practice for when Shakey (AKA Alejandro Rose Garcia) took the stage.
The pin-drop silence of the attentive audience let every delicately finger-picked note and beat from his suitcase kick drum ring out. Once the opening refrain of Roll the Bones came through the devotion of the audience became clear. Everyone in my vicinity was muttering the words under their breath like a prayer.
Warm and chatty, he’s got the ability to turn any stage screw up into an opportunity to draw the audience in
It’s in these moments that Shakey Grave’s gifts as a performer really shine through. Warm and chatty, he’s got the ability to turn any stage screw up (his kick drum breaking) into an opportunity to draw the audience in (by politely asking us to clap out the bass beat). He breaks in and out of songs, adding to the lyrics with wry asides, playing around with the melody, the rhythm and the intensity in a way that makes every performance feel like a one-time-only thing.
It’s a skill that has made his live shows somewhat legendary, though it could sometimes get lost once his band joined in. Playing new cuts from their Sleep EP and upcoming album Can’t Wake Up, they showcased a new, slightly psychedelic sound. This being the first show of their European tour, it’s unsurprising that some of these songs lacked the playfulness of older material (and judging by the number of times he thanked us for listening, it was something he was clearly aware of).
Still, the band are tight as a tick and more than capable of taking old songs and new into epic new places. In a genre that is often guilty of prioritising old-timey tradition over innovation, it’s great to hear an Americana artist experiment with their sound.
Tomorrow, a song he originally wrote at 16, rewrote in his 20’s and now plays with sardonic, self-decrepitating commentary
The challenge for Shakey Graves as he moves from a solo performer to band leader is maintaining the space to go off the cuff and let the quality of his songwriting shine through. Returning to play solo, he treated us to a performance of Tomorrow, a song he originally wrote at 16, rewrote in his 20’s and now plays with sardonic, self-decrepitating commentary.
At the audience’s request, he revisited murder ballad Late July, ripping into the 2012 YouTube video that is probably the most famous recording of the song, as well as the song itself (‘This is, of course, a true story…’). In a world where artists too often take themselves way too seriously, the pleasure he takes snarking all over his work is endlessly charming.
It seems fitting for one of the most free-wheeling artists out there.
The band came back for the encore to play some very enjoyable (surprisingly jangly) new songs. I’d love to tell you what they were called but, in my mission to check out the setlist for this review, I learnt that they prefer to play without one. It seems fitting for one of the most free-wheeling artists out there. Here’s hoping he’ll be rolling into town more often.