One day Shakey Graves might have to choose between Billboard, country-pop success and the sleazier and fiery solo show he can pull off.
What is Shakey Graves? Is it Alejandro Rose-Garcia, the fine Texas gentleman who made a career off of spooky lo-fi studio work and fiery, one-man band live shows? Or is it the newly refined act, complete with a drummer and second guitarist that seem to be climbing its way into the national spotlight? Well, Mr. Graves ain’t telling because, if his packed show in Eugene showed anything, it was that Shakey wants to have his cake and eat it too.
Tuesday’s crowd was split between listeners who had been drawn to the creepy, voodoo blues of albums like Roll the Bones and some legendary live performances, just made of Garcia singing, setting fire to his guitar and stomping on a kick drum/suitcase hybrid. Others were recent converts from the newest Shakey Graves offering, And the War Came, a significantly more polished product than his Bandcamp-posted material. After a sturdy performance from The Barr Brothers, Shakey, dressed in a T-shirt, came out with his guitar and kick-suitcase and started off the show with two older cuts, including a rowdy take on “Roll the Bones,” an early highlight from the set, with the crowd attempting to sing along as Shakey gleefully changed tempos and dynamics on a dime. He followed by ushering his bandmates out on stage and charging into electric versions of And the War Came cuts.
This is how the entire set went, a few songs of solo Shakey, then an interlude of a full band crashing through boisterous country tunes. Shakey’s backing band is as tight as a drum, able to keep up with his guitar shenanigans and odd detours (early in the set he started vamping on a keyboard, claiming he was about to cover some Salt ‘N Pepa). The Shakey of live albums like West of Calgary also came out in full force. His gritty, yet warm voice played perfectly over raunchy and funny tunes, with a great side of stage banter to boot. He injected the usually somber “Proper Fence” with humor, closing the song by omitting the last verse and casually saying, “and she died, that’s the end,” bringing his tale of lost love to a close with a laugh. Even better was a long tangent about his younger self which ended with Shakey dedicating the set to “the little 17-year-old shithead in us all,” though, considering he was mostly playing to University of Oregon students, his comments on hardheaded youth might have been a bit too on the nose.
Both parts of the show were solid, but the sudden back and forth killed any cohesion Shakey could have mustered. The full band treatment fills up large venues like the McDonald nicely, but there are few performers with quite the stage presence as a solo Shakey. I found myself wishing for more of the stripped down work that probably works better in a bar setting, but still kills in an auditorium. Shakey smartly closed on his own by delivering the ferocious “Late July,” a tune filled with lust, murder and executions that’s become a live staple for Shakey. It was the pinnacle of the night’s music, without a doubt, but it does leave a few concerns with Shakey’s camp. One day he might have to choose between Billboard, country-pop success and the sleazier and fiery solo show he can pull off.