Shakey Graves / Cameron Neal

Alix Goolden Performance Hall, Victoria BC, March 20

Photo: Kim Jay

BY Alan RantaPublished Mar 21, 2019

If you were at the 2014 Sasquatch! Music Festival, you probably heard the name Shakey Graves. He was the talk of the weekend, as he earned a massive crowd at one of the festival's smallest stages. It seems his buzz has only gotten louder since. The man born Alejandro Rose-Garcia sold out the 800-capacity Alix Goolden Hall less than an hour after tickets became available.
For those lucky enough to make it through the door, Cameron Neal opened the show with a solo set. He greeted the night with just his quaint Southern drawl and his strummed acoustic guitar. Known more so as a member of Elle King's touring band and, primarily, as the frontman for Bella Union band Horse Thief, Neal only has a couple of songs out under his own name thus far. As such, he would end up including tracks like Elle King's "Chained," a song he co-wrote with her, and Horse Thief's "Million Dollars" in his set list. "Chained" is normally sung as a duet, but he injected all the lilt he could into his vocals to make up for it.
There was palpable substance running through Neal's folksy country twang. He performed a song he wrote while he was upset about seeing so many mass shootings in America while his government did and continues to do absolutely nothing about it. Near the end of his set, he did "Set Me Free," a song about letting hate go and trying to project more positive energy, to help us all move forward together. The crowd hooted their pleasure when he hit the falsetto in its chorus.
Following a surprising selection of classic exotica lounge jazz between sets, Alejandro Rose-Garcia came out to rock Shakey Graves solo, playing acoustic guitar while triggering a kick drum and tambourine standing up. He performed "Tomorrow," a love song he wrote when he was only 17 and admittedly too young to really understand what he was writing about, followed by the Townes Van Zandt ballad "No Place to Fall," which truly captured something. He jacked in after those two, cracking up the amplification as the crowd amped up their rowdiness, rattling the stained-glass windows in that old cathedral.
Rose-Garcia claimed that Canadians were nice to him before people in the States were. His first Canadian show was at Vancouver's now defunct Electric Owl Social Club back in 2013, where everyone knew his songs even though their lyrics were vaguely lost on the internet at the time, then gave him acid and cookies.
About a half-hour into his set, Rose-Garcia brought out his band: drummer Chris Boosahda, guitarist Patrick O'Connor, and bassist/keyboardist John Shaw. They had some chemistry; Rose-Garcia blended in nicely with the band, and there were some solid vocal harmonies between himself and O'Connor. Esme Patterson wasn't there to sing her part on "Dearly Departed," but Rose-Garcia encouraged the crowd to sing it if they knew it, which many did.
Cameron Neal came back out for a number with the refrain "the joke's on you," a track that Neal apparently wrote at Rose-Garcia's house before they knew they were going to tour across Canada together. This was only the second time the song had been performed live, given the song was only recently self-released on a compilation for Shakey Graves Day.
Seriously, there is a Shakey Graves Day. Back in 2012, then-Mayor of Austin, Lee Leffingwell declared a "Shakey Graves Day." Every year since, Rose-Garcia has put his entire catalogue up on Bandcamp as pay-what-you-want, alongside special rarities released only for the event, giving back a little bit to those who love him, and it's easy to see why they do.
In case he hadn't endeared himself to the crowd enough, he performed a cover of "Unknown Legend" by, he joked, the famous Canadian Bruce Springsteen. (In actuality, written by Neil Young.) This was a song he would listen to with his dad when he was a kid, giving a slight heartstring tug, but when it came time for the harmonica solo, and he didn't have a harmonica, Rose-Garcia feebly beatboxed and mimed the pocket instrument for comedic effect.
The band wandered off into the darkness with little fuss about an hour after they took the stage, leaving Rose-Garcia to sing "Georgia Moon," a song ostensibly about the moon, but in truth about the underage drinking of a hillbilly highball that boasts it's aged for less than 30 days.
Thankfully, although not all that surprising from an artist with such acute self-awareness and compulsion towards honesty, Shakey Graves is a proud member of the no-fake-encores club. Thus, he ended the set just like he began, playing "Hard Wired" with an acoustic guitar and a kick drum, sending people home with best wishes and a comforting sense of symmetry.

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