Photographs by Neil Van.

I had never heard Shakey Graves before walking into the Danforth Music Hall in Toronto on November 8.  I knew the name from this year’s Osheaga Festival, but I never ventured to go check him out.

Last night’s gig would have passed me by in a similar fashion was it not for the recommendation of my esteemed colleague Sarah Rix.  I had been bed-ridden with some cold/flu-like plague for a week so I was hoping the trek to the Music Hall wouldn’t be a total waste of time.  But I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did.

The show sold out well in advance of the actual day, something that baffled me until about halfway through his set.  Despite getting little, if any, radio play, the Austin based Alejandro Rose-Garcia has quickly gathered a rabid following via rabid touring and what turns out to be a pretty awesome stage presence.

While the stage was set up for a full band, I worried that after two solo songs the night would be like another Ed Sheeran/Passenger gig, which would be fine when I’m not sick and there are no seats.  The other problem with the solo bits was the crowd chatter that became obvious.

The venue was packed early and that roar that followed the dimming of the lights for Shakey Graves’ set time defied the roughly 1500 people there, sounding more like 15,000.  But when he started playing, a lot of people just started talking.  There was probably a contingent of people who saw him at Osheaga or this year’s TURF and then wanted to recall the sunny day, forgetting they weren’t at the back of a field in a park.

After a few solo tracks, a drummer emerged and proceeded to batter the life out of his drumkit for a bunch of songs, kicking off with “Roll the Bones”, not a Rush cover, but something more like a Keep On Your Mean Side-era Kills stormer that shut everyone around me up in what was easily my highlight of the night.

Throughout the course of the night, and he would end as he began, with a solo set, Shakey Graves was a loose, veritable blast, proving himself quite entertaining and entertainingly filthy performer that made me laugh, dance a bit, and made some of the gentlemen behind me openly and loudly question their sexuality.  It didn’t feel like a rock concert per se, more massive house party with a versatile house band.  The variety was surprising and impressive.  Alejandro’s guitar playing was impressive and the chemistry between Rose-Garcia and his drummer and their theatrics especially for their finales was obvious.  

On top of great songs, he gave us bad advice, showed off some hilarious ambidexterity and told us death and dick jokes.  Was it how I expected the end of my weekend to go?  No, but I don’t think I expected my weekend to end on such a high note and I am thankful to Miss Rix.  The only real drawback of the evening was the chatty crowd, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t amused by the gents behind me.

Not only did I get blown away by the headliner, I got seduced by the opening act too.  Nashville’s Those Darlins were already in progress when I walked into the venue, but their garage rock with just a barely there hint of country was fierce and a nice surprise making me happy I got to the venue early.  With some better sound mixing and their own crowd, they will be packing this place on their own soon I hope.