Shakey Graves at SPACE

By Ethan Shanfeld

Photos by Devon Spungin

18 Feb, 2020

Closing out a three-night “mini residency” at Evanston’s very own SPACE on Tuesday, February 18, Shakey Graves delivered a two-set acoustic show, scattering pieces of his adventurous life story in between stripped-down folk and Americana tunes.

Alone on stage with an acoustic guitar, Shakey Graves (born Alejandro Rose-Garcia) began the night with a cover of John Prine’s “Paradise.” He cut up the verses with anecdotes about his childhood in Austin, Texas, and grumbled about how the head of the Montessori he attended made him and his classmates sing old folk songs before eating lunch.

“However, it’d be pretty cool to watch a bunch of little kids sing about working in the coal mines,” he admitted.

Throughout the song, Shakey Graves manipulated the sound of the guitar by adjusting the tuning knobs — a unique and impressive musical choice. He then employed the audience’s help in singing the riff of the unsettling “Built To Roam,” a song he said was about moving to Los Angeles at age 12 to chase an unfulfilled dream of becoming an actor. “So New York City, yeah I’ll see you soon / Oh, spend all my money on some elbow room,” he growled.

The show was beautifully intimate, with the majority of the audience seated at candlelit tables close to the stage. It felt as if there were a campfire in the middle of the venue, Shakey Graves playing the cool camp counselor singing songs and telling stories and the audience playing his eager group of kids staying up past their bedtime.

After doing “Word Of Mouth,” Shakey Graves invited onstage guitarist Patrick O’Connor, bassist Jon Shaw and drummer Chris Boosahda to help finish off the first set. The band performed “Pansy Waltz,” based on a bitter breakup, “Cops And Robbers,” inspired by a suspicious Australian driver, and “House of Winston,” named after the funeral service that held the memorial for gang leader Tookie Williams.

Much of Shakey Graves’ music represents his nomadic lifestyle. He often sings about running from town to town, escaping whatever is troubling him at the moment. He paints vivid portraits of crushing heartbreak and ephemeral happiness, animating everyday characters in his life with illustrious storytelling.

The band closed the first set with the wacky “Aibohphobia,” the product of Shakey Graves, Rayland Baxter and some acid-spiked margaritas in the Middle of Nowhere, Colorado. The song, titled after the irrational fear of palindromes, features an ending verse that reads the same forward and backward. 

They also treated the audience with a few unreleased songs: the somber “Not Everything Grows,” the folksy “The Recipe” and the Radiohead-esque “Look Alive,” an effervescent, acoustic guitar-driven tune with melancholy undertones.

During the second set, Shakey Graves introduced a clunky old tape machine to record live sounds for the new album. It was clear he wasn’t following a setlist, so when an eager fan yelled out, “PLAY DEARLY DEPARTED!” he had little choice but to oblige. Simulating the song’s percussion on his acoustic guitar, Shakey Graves guided the crowd in clapping during the “designated zones.” The stripped-down feel suited the song better and placed more weight on lines like, “You and I both know that the house is haunted / Yeah you and I both know that the ghost is me.” Still, it couldn’t be taken too seriously as Shakey Graves pointed out in between lyrics the song’s not-so-subtle sex references.

“That’s a dick joke!” he proclaimed almost too proudly after singing, “I was busy trying to charm that snake.”

Due to SPACE’s lack of a backstage area, in order to avoid walking through the audience only to come right back, Shakey Graves simulated a “fake encore.”

“Let’s pretend I just walked off and came back,” he said, smiling, bathing in the audience’s playful cheers.

Shakey Graves finished the night off with “Family Tree,” “Stereotypes Of A Blue Collar Male,” and “Georgia Moon.” With a sparkling disco ball above, it was the perfect ending to a beautiful night of songs and stories.

“Shine on, Georgia moon, shine on.”