Shakey Graves

The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, December 2

Shakey GravesThe Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON, December 2
Photo: Rick Clifford
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The man who emphatically suggests that he was "Built to Roam" entered stage left to a sold out crowd and took his position behind the microphone, situating his left and right heels on pedals connected to a tambourine and kick drum in the shape of a suitcase, respectively. Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) is a man that literally walks to the beat of his own drum.

With both legs working to keep rhythm, Shakey Graves always appears to be moving forward, which is what he is figuratively managing to do in the world of alternative music. This latest tour is in promotion of his most recent album, And The War Came, which has shown Shakey Graves' resilience as a performer with a very particular style of lo-fi Americana. The strength of his most recent recording has solidified his prominent position; someone in the crowd was heard ask, "Why does all the best music come from Austin?"

Electric acoustic in hand, the bearded Graves warmed the crowd with some conversation. The kick drum began to ring out and compulsory stomps from the crowd followed. Following a cheeky rendition of "Proper Fence" in which he finished with a mischievous hand gesture in tandem with the line "They told me the grim reaper done come and turned her in," the personality of Shakey Graves was clearly on full display. The charismatic crooner bantered with the crowd and his fellow musicians who provided backing intermittently. Dripping sweat, he breezed through "Once In a While" before ripping out a visceral performance of "Perfect Parts" as the energized audience returned the chant of "What have I learned?"

Settling into a groove once more, the amiable and chatty singer described the writing process for "Tomorrow" and explained that it "is for the shithead in all of us." This brand of honesty and admission added to the intimacy of the gathering. Hanging on every word, the crowd intently listened to the humorous inspirations and stories behind songs like "Georgia Moon" and "Late July."

Opener and collaborator Esmé Patterson joined Shakey Graves on stage for a brief sojourn into their shared tracks from And the War Came. In perfect harmony, the two played through "Call it Heaven" and "Big Time Nashville Star," a performance that was fascinating because of its simplicity and comfort. Favourite "Dearly Departed," wasn't played while Patterson was still onstage — when the song was played later, her parts were sung ably and enthusiastically by the crowd. The stirring conclusion to the contagious track was met with raucous cheering as Shakey left the stage, only to be demanded back for a two-song encore.

The energy and passion that lone wolf Shakey Graves brings to the stage is captivating. With little to no lights or set design, he still managed to sell out the Phoenix and deliver a resounding performance. After seeing the show, it's no wonder it took the Austin-based musician only a year to go from opening for Shovels & Rope at the much smaller Horseshoe Tavern to headlining a bigger venue.
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