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The eerie ease of Shakey Graves

Charlottesville concert-goers and Austin musicians showed up for each other in a night of indie Americana and blues

<p>Alejandro Rose-Garcia, also known as “Shakey Graves,” played at the The Jefferson Theater on Nov. 12.&nbsp;</p>

Alejandro Rose-Garcia, also known as “Shakey Graves,” played at the The Jefferson Theater on Nov. 12. 

The crowd at The Jefferson Theater was alight with near giddy anticipation Friday night — there was a certain innocence to the excitement, akin to a group of middle school students awaiting a field trip. In line for the door, audience members chatted and laughed, clutching onto each other and shuffling in from the cold, telling each other how long it had been since they had been to a concert — a month, a few weeks and for most, two years. There was perhaps no better artist to welcome so many back into the music scene than the notoriously no-frills Alejandro Rose-Garcia, better known as Shakey Graves. 

Hailing from Austin, Texas, Rose-Garcia brought along fellow Austin musicians Sun June to open. The group, led by Laura Colwell on vocals, performed a relaxed set, warming up the crowd just enough to still be thoroughly invigorated by Rose-Garcia’s set. Both Sun June and Rose-Garcia started their sets promptly, feeding into the eager atmosphere of the night. 

Rose-Garcia came out onto the stage alone, cloaked in rich red lighting, with his suitcase kick drum and hollow body guitar. Even as the crowd stomped, screamed and shouted out, “Shakey’s back!” Rose-Garcia was playing his guitar. Rarely a lapse in music on stage, if Rose-Garcia was not speaking to the audience, or riffing with his accompanying band later on in the night, he was strumming on his guitar and creating wild and enrapturing distortion. 

Tapping into the audience’s excitement, upon walking out onto the stage he said, “Oh s—t, Charlottesville!” 

Exercising a bit of nostalgia, Rose-Garcia explained that when he started touring years ago, The Jefferson was one of the first places he played. Alongside the nostalgia for the space, and gratitude for the crowd, Rose-Garcia was also celebrating the 10 year anniversary of his album “Roll the Bones.” The revamped and re-released version, “Roll the Bones X,” — a 25-track album released in early 2021 — is an expansive exploration of bluesy Americana, western motifs and spoken word interludes. The concert featured a medley of tracks from “Roll the Bones X” as well as classics off his 2018 album, “Can’t Wake Up” and fan-favorites like “Tomorrow” and “Dearly Departed.”

Rose-Garcia sings with the intensity of a busker, demanding to be heard on a busy and apathetic street corner. He growls out the lyrics, groans and sighs. He strains against the microphone and urgently picks at his guitar — he is a deeply physical performer. And yet, even with the howling and desperation of his performance, it seems completely second-nature to him. His stage presence comes with almost eerie ease, as he goes limp from time to time, leaning back and swaying as if held up by the reverberation of the music and the stomps of the crowd alone. 

Some favorite moments of the night included a crowd-supported rendition of “Happy Birthday” to a fan’s friend over facetime and another birthday tribute, this time to Neil Young, with “Unknown Legend.” Another cover that lingered with the crowd was Rose-Garcia’s solo rendition of Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” He is an expert in audience participation, any chance he had to get the audience to sing along he would, holding his mic out over the audience, and shaking his guitar so the reverb rang out further. The audience even got the special, electrifying experience of singing Esmé Patterson’s part in Rose-Garcia’s famous “Dearly Departed” — a song written in jest about ghosts and breakups, which quickly became a fan favorite. 

Fans got a bit of insight into the composition of his more commercially favorite song, “Tomorrow,” released in 2013. He noted he started writing the song at 17, without much of an understanding of what it was he was writing about — love and what it means to support someone. He said to the crowd of his interpretation now, “It’s about showing up. When you care about someone, you show up for them. So thank you for showing up here tonight.”

Rose-Garcia is a performer with a near-supernatural ability to empathize with his audience, to eke out the exact reaction and energy needed for each song, and adjust his own attitude accordingly. Throughout the show, rather than ignore the strangeness and discomfort of being back on tour or in a concert hall after the onset of a global pandemic, he leaned into it. He would interrupt himself mid-lyric to note how relevant a line might be, to tease out the emotion and let it resonate, rather than skip past it. 

One concert-goer and Charlottesville resident, Gregory Dalton, said of the concert, “The energy was alive and buzzing. It’s special when music can gather a rag-tag group of strangers into a family, stomping and cheering together.” 

The night was full of community building through catharsis and excellent music. If caring for someone means showing up for them, then not only did the crowd show up for Shakey Graves, they showed up for each other too. 

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