SHAKEY GRAVES: The Americana Dream

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SHAKEY GRAVES: The Americana Dream

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The pre-show music that played on the speakers was reminiscent of distinct regions of the world. One song transported the listener to the jungle, as African drums played exotic beats and panflutes whistled in the air. The next tune experimented in the mystical phrygian mode, evoking desert wind on the faces of listeners. When might we visit these vastly different places in such a short period of time? The answer: In the delirium of a dream.

A year ago, walking into a Shakey Graves concert may have felt similar to entering a cowboy town in a Western film. Imagine listening to gritty acoustic guitar riffs and raspy vocals while sitting down for a drink at the local saloon. The year, however, is 2018. On Sunday walking into The Pageant to see Shakey Graves was more like walking into a dream.

Shakey Graves is the stage name of Alejandro Rose-Garcia—an Austin, Texas native. His new album “Can’t Wake Up” moves far from his Lone Star roots. It dives straight into the happenings of the unconscious mind.

In concert, Rose-Garcia achieves this dream-like state through lyricism, clashing instrumentation and shimmering lights. To call it psychedelic would be a mischaracterization. Rather, the sum of all the variables puts you in that gurgling state of a dream which, at times is fantastic, and at other times melancholy.

Rose-Garcia opened his set by arriving subtly on stage accompanied by only his guitar and kick drum. The kick drum is fashioned out of an old suitcase and includes a tambourine, and the peculiar instrument helped launch the artist to fame after he used it as the official “busker” on a Mumford and Sons tour. Rose-Garcia breathed in the crowd’s energy and launched into a spellbinding medley of two of his songs, “Roll the Bones” and “Nobody’s Fool.”

Perhaps the most striking performance was of the song “Counting Sheep,” the lead track on the band’s new album. The vocalist proclaims, “I am the very specimen/ Of a sleepwalking gentleman.” The two guitarists played a hypnotic double melody soaked in delay.  Two old-school projectors displayed images of the universe onto four background screens, furthering the dream-like state. Other notable performances were of the cosmic “Mansion Door” and the upbeat sing-along “Dearly Departed.”

The set was punctuated with a variety of dialogue from Rose-Garcia, who avoided pandering to the crowd while he mused about friendship, romance and life. At times, the frontman’s voice was difficult to make out over the pounding drums and throbbing bass line.  The lines that the crowd heard from Rose-Garcia explained the origins of songs like “Late July,” which follows a criminal who escapes to Mexico.

Every show has a different crowd, and the one at Shakey Graves was unique in its members’ politeness, good will and eagerness for Rose-Garcia’s peculiarities. When the frontman roared into the microphone and asked the near-sellout audience to repeat, he heard a hearty reply. When the band dipped into one of a several five-plus minute jam sessions, listeners tapped their feet and swayed their hips patiently. The authors also appreciated the crowd’s willingness to let them move around between the floor and photography zone.

In the encore, Rose-Garcia once again played solo, and he became sentimental. “You got to seize the time you have… there’s no real reason not to,” he said as his strumming became louder, and he eventually let go to the dreaminess that was so characteristic of the night.

Shakey Graves fans accustomed to the folksy Americana sound of their previous work may have been disappointed, but the new music’s dreamlike quality combined with a delirious, wandering set made the show well worth the price of admission.