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Review Sat Nov 07 2015

Shakey Graves, the Consummate Austin Entertainer, Enthralls Thalia Hall


The last time I reviewed a show at Thalia Hall, they put me in the back right corner of the balcony. I got a great perspective of how large Noah Gundersen's crowd was but had to squint to see Gundersen himself. I figured that was just the designated media spot, and was therefore expecting something similar last night for the second of Shakey Graves' two sold-out shows. So you can imagine my surprise when I was directed to the lower left opera box, which I shared with Shakey's Chicago friends (pro tip: if you offer lodging to a band when they're playing Schubas and stay friends with them over the intervening years, it pays off). It was the best seat I've ever had for a concert, and I couldn't have picked much of a better show for it, as Shakey Graves put on an enrapturing performance.

First to take the stage was Those Darlins, a four-piece band out of the vibrant Nashville garage rock scene that Jack White has been instrumental in fostering. Dually fronted by Jessi Zazu and Nikki Kvarnes, Those Darlins reminisced upon the girl power of acts like The Donnas and Joan Jett -- Kvarnes seemed to literally channel Jett, from her black leather getup to her hard-edged voice. The most impressive aspect of their performance (and there were many in an outstanding 45-minute set that ranged from rockabilly-inspired tunes to straightforward punk) was the band's overall stage presence, the way they commanded the crowd's focus with subtle movements -- a step forward by Kvarnes during a guitar lead, bassist Linwood Regensburg's ability to melt into the background after singing his harmony parts, Zazu's careful exploration of the front of the stage.

Zazu sang lead on most of the songs and spent much of that time gazing wide-eyed directly at the front few rows of the audience in what honestly must have been a bit of an unnerving manner; even from my position on the left side of the stage, I could tell she had the type of stare that imprints itself on your soul. Zazu also took over the spotlight to perform a number of rollicking guitar solos, most notably on "In the Wilderness" and "Ain't Afraid," but the best of her energy came on the bluesy, heartbroken "That Man," when she ripped the mic off its stand and strutted her stuff with an equal combination of spite and loneliness. Among the sonic highlights of the set were the tongue-in-cheek country song "Guitar World," the audible snarl in "Oh God," and the new wave energy of "Hives." But the single best thing I saw all evening was XRT morning show host Lin Brehmer in the front row of the audience rocking out harder than anyone in the room. Mad respect, Lin.


The curtains closed on the stage at Thalia Hall after the crew set up for Shakey Graves' performance and rather than opening back up, Shakey himself stepped out from behind the black velvet to raucous cheers and began the set the way he began his career -- as a one-man band. He toted a brand new acoustic guitar he had christened "Lady," he told the crowd, because apparently at Thursday evening's performance at Thalia he had broken the headstock of his old one. With guitar in hand and his feet powering a suitcase kick drum and a tambourine, he launched into an Arlo Guthrie-esque storytelling medley of "The Donor Blues" and "Proper Fence," more entertainer than singer. He made the sold-out room feel like a small coffeehouse, particularly in his interactions with the fans in the front. One was nice enough to offer him some weed, to which he replied, "I have weed," a twinkle in his eye.

Eventually, the curtains opened to reveal Shakey's bandmates, drummer Chris Booshada and guitarist/bassist Patrick O'Connor, and the three musicians jumped headlong into an overdriven Americana frenzy. Given the tender acoustic folk that led off the set and populates his 2014 LP And the War Came, I hadn't been expecting Shakey Graves to rock so hard, but I suppose when you go from being a one-man band to having a rhythm section, you can't resist. The happiness the three musicians felt at playing with one another was palpable and infectious throughout, as they cast constant sidelong smiles in each other's direction and, after "Pansy Waltz," embraced onstage (probably because the song's refrain laments, "I should've been a better friend to you"). The trio moved easily between styles, pumping out noisy garage blues on "The Perfect Parts" as Shakey leapt ecstatically around the stage, then later pulling out the acoustic guitars for "To Cure What Ails." One of the more eye-catching moments happened on "Only Son," when Booshard stepped out from behind the drums to take over the bass and turned the show into a mountain-type string band.


Throughout the set, Shakey's charisma proved a constant, his little asides between songs building a personal relationship with each member of the audience. At some point, a fan yelled out, "Keep Austin weird, Shakey!" (the unofficial slogan of Texas' capital) and that gave him the opportunity to make a sort of thesis statement for the night: "Keep yourself weird." I was curious to see how he would pull off the songs he wrote as duets with Esmé Patterson, including his biggest hit, "Dearly Departed." But the crowd filled in all the gaps, turning the fun song about a ghostly ex into a joyous communal exorcism. After that emotional high, there was nothing more the full band could do -- so the encore, of course, finished the show the way it began, as Shakey returned to his acoustic guitar, suitcase kick drum, and conversational style with the delightful "Chinatown."

Could you call Shaky Graves a folksier, Texan Ed Sheeran? Perhaps. You could also call him the Americana Jack White given the way he shredded with his band. Either way, he remains an outstanding entertainer, and his carefree spirit left Thalia Hall in the chest of each person who attended the show.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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Alarm Magazine
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