The pride of Austin, Texas, folk rocker Shakey Graves, came rolling through town with his three-piece band in tow to spout cautionary tales and road wisdom to a raucous Dublin crowd on Friday night. Gaining notoriety earlier this decade for his one-man band style performance, the singer-songwriter born Alejandro Rose-Garcia has been making a name for himself ever since with his bluesy country guitar ramblings. With now a healthy catalogue of knockout tracks, Shakey Graves has been touring the better part of this year in support of his new album Can’t Wake Up.
This latest effort is a deviation from his earthy musical roots, exploring avenues of indie pop with a more polished finish while still holding fast to his phenomenal finger picking and yearning vocals. Despite it’s signs of growth and maturity as an artist, Can’t Wake Up didn’t exactly blow me away. However, it’s never been the recorded Shakey Graves that sparked my fancy, rather his live act (specifically that lovely one in the bowling alley for KEPX where he covers a song from The Little Mermaid). At this stop in Dublin, the quality of his live game was on point as ever.
“This show is about bad advice for you,” Rose-Garcia pronounced pointedly into the mic as he launched into “Word of Mouth”. The rising and falling sentiments of the song settled over an excitable crowd and the man beamed consummately at their response as he picked up the pace, thumping the kick drum and tambourine on his busker-style rig. Shakey’s mischievous lyricism rang out rhythmically in time to his multi-tasking instrumentalism, free-wheeling with dynamic volumes and ear-catching phrasing.
The musician’s charms only increased as he paused between tunes to recount tales of his personal lore and shed light on some of the light-hearted inspirations for his music. Leading up to “Tomorrow” he explained that this was a love song written by his much younger, slightly more naïve self, but in which he can still find feelings that have stuck with him today. The man drenched this back catalogue track in self-deprecating humour, picking through it with exaggerated expressions over the more dubious lyrics, winking cartoonishly at what he had once decreed true romance. It was a great demonstration of how important it may be for a songwriter to remember and appreciate where they have been and how far they have come, artistically and personally. And that’s good advice for anyone of us.
More helpful counsel unfurled in “Nobody’s Fool” before Shakey Graves threw caution to the wind, trading his acoustic for electric for a dark and desperate “Roll the Bones”. His eyes rolled emphatically as he tickled the frets and tapped out the rhythm with his toes. Pausing to look skyward, he pressed the mic to his chest and emulating his bearing heart with a bass drum kick, which prompted the crowd to clap in unison as Shakey ruminated on mortality in an eerie green haze.
As his bandmates joined Rose-Garcia on stage, the foursome set out to tackle a few tracks off the latest album. The new tunes benefitted from the fleshed-out live sound and were very enjoyable. Particularly striking was “Dining Alone”, a ditty with a cabaret sound and guitar sound emulating wayward violin, about a familiar sensation of feeling stuck in a routine yet spending all your time fantasizing about things that you’ll never do.
After this introspective section, Shakey Graves brought it back to a classic with a flashy solo leading into “The Perfect Parts”. At this stage, Rose-Garcia was in full effect, his shaggy main dripping with sweat as he carelessly spun the mic onto the crowd to take a sip from his beer, curating a manic call and response. Shakey put his entire body into the heart-wrenching ballad singing, “I’ll be watching from afar, Under the light of another star”, contorting his face and straining his throat, coursing into the schizophrenic vocalizations of a driving “Built to Roam”.
As the bandmates left Shakey alone on the stage, some of the more tender moments were somewhat spoilt by the rowdy chattiness of the crowd, but this did not deter him. He applauded the audience for their chant-backs and was clearly just loving every moment of the gig regardless. He gleefully ended the formal set with a long-winded tale of drinking cheap moonshine in Tennessee while ill-advised driving down country roads, whereupon he and a pal wrote “Georgia Moon”. The colourful anecdote made the final song all the more enjoyable.
To much fanfare, the band came back on for three final dynamic hits. Shakey was simply radiating during a heartfelt “Family and Genus” calling everyone in the audience his friends and family and putting his entire body into the performance, rocking his hips against the guitar, gesturing animatedly, and running in places. The crowd went nuts for the first tones of “Dearly Departed” and its recognizable drum-rimmed intro. The set hit its peak as the starry-eyed singer, solo once more, left things off with a lively rendition of “Late July” accelerating to an impossible tempo before fizzling out in some glorious final throes. I could have watched this charming guy for hours more but sadly it had to come to an end—back to the bowling alley video for me, until next time!
Word of Mouth
Roll the Bones
Big Bad Wolf
The Perfect Parts
Built to Roam
Family and Genus
Review by Krysten Maier
Photography © Michael Lockheart 2018