Shakey Graves with TAMU Massif
Friday 22nd April 2016 – The Empire Music Hall, Belfast
The Empire is one of my favourite venues for many reasons; with it’s character and look it never fails to bring amazing acts to Belfast. This show was an unusual one for few different reasons. Firstly – it is the first European tour for Texas born guitarist Shakey Graves (Alejandro Rose-Garcia) secondly, he brought a very interesting support act with him – David Dixon aka TAMU Massif (which is also a name of the volcano, so if you are looking him up online, dig deeper). Both solo acts, both with folk roots, both bringing guitar and effects but using them in very different ways.
Young Mr Dixon opened the gig by walking on stage just after 9pm; the venue was filled from top to bottom. Tickets around the UK sold out in no time and many fans were still hoping to grab whatever was left up until the very last minute via social media. TAMU Massif got down on one knee to adjust his endless set of guitar pedals and synths. Dressed in blue denim trousers, black t-shirt and trainers with a white shiny Gretsch guitar strapped to his shoulder he started playing without introduction. The low, calm voice grabbed everyone’s attention while he performed tracks from his Alba EP: ‘Jejune/Selene’, ‘A Fate Much Worse’, ‘Delphine’ and many more. The audience was captured by the performance; a combo of guitar strums mixed with synth effects make his music breathe on its own. He gives it a dimension, the sound slowly rolled off the stage straight into the ears just like volcanic lava. With David’s deep, calm voice working through the arrangements it’s difficult to classify or compare him to Alt J or early work of Wild Beasts or any artist in this novel genre. His music is peculiar, it has been a very promising start for this young artist so far.
He thanked everyone for a warm reception and said how surprised he was to see here a man topless in 15 degree ‘heat’. Yes, it’s Belfast, so he needs to visit more often to realise that this is almost summer.
Shakey Graves took to the stage with his four guitars lined up and the legendary kick drum & tambourine (built in to a suitcase which seems convenient for tour). He walked out in skin tight jeans, black boots and an over sized open cardigan. Boots are particularly important for Rose-Garcia as he uses his legs as much as his hands and lungs to give an incredible performance. He cleverly combines soul, country, bluegrass and rock and roll. He was fed on theatre and knows how to put a great show together.
Starting with ‘Roll the Bones’ he teased the hungry public with a fingerpicked intro and gripping drum bests where everybody joined in clapping and dancing along. He showed off crude sounds and was pulling the strings to the point where they might have snapped out of the guitar bridge, but not for him; Shakey is the master of that fine line. His scratchy, distinguished voice with symbolic “sh” for “s” and amazing talent for writing completes the whole experience. After the first track he looked up to the public sipping on “Mexican coffee” (topped up with tequila) saying that he is glad to be visiting for the first time. Next to roll from his sweaty hands was a mixture of songs released in previous years: ‘Built To Roam’, ‘Where A Boy Once Stood’ along with pieces from well recognized And The War Came (2014); ‘If Not For You’, ‘The Perfect Parts’, ‘Hardwired’ – all of which are examples of how his kicks can play around with tempos and rhythms bouncing off his guitar freely. During the show he had asked to light up the two resident giant disco balls to set the mood. For ‘Dearly Departed’ (originally sang with Esme Patterson) Shakey Graves wittily arranges a ‘volunteer’ – Lily – who joins him onstage to perform this iconic track.
I believe that Alejandro will be back to Belfast within a few years and hopefully he will stand on a bigger stage this time, so all the fans could get a glance. Shakey Graves re-lives each song during his show – every emotion from jolly singing about moonshine to ballads of a broken heart – it seems to be painted on his face and engraved in our minds.