I’ll be honest and say I’d only listened to Shakey Grave’s debut album And The War Came once fully prior to his show at Gorilla, Manchester, last night. In hindsight, I wish I’d given it a few more plays because the gig turned out to be a veritable riot of hip-swinging merriment and I felt almost guilty for not knowing any of the lyrics.
The support act was a young lad by the name of Tamu Massif from Weston-Super-Mare, whose sound consists of a sort of King Krule-esque, semi-confessional lyricism with the instrumentals of James Blake. He nervously laughed off the initial sound blip and recovered from a mid-song hiccup with a smile like a trooper, though he struggled to compete with the crowd’s chatter and this seemed to throw him off his rhythm a bit.
To rapturous applause, Shakey strutted onto the stage with some suave country cheekiness that quickly diminished into a disgruntled scowl when he realised there was a slight fault with the guitar tuning and sound. All sorted, the first song he played was Bully’s Lament, an intimate number that really shows off his incredible vocal range and masterful fingerpicking guitar style.
This performance was his debut in England, he told us in his thick southern US twang genuinely humbled, and he’s dreamed of this since the Spice Girls took over the States in the 90’s. He delicately improvised the show as it progressed, taking a well-earned breather every so often to converse with the crowd, and forewarned us that his songs are mostly him preaching terrible advice, and proceeded to spiral into a philosophical digression that would make Father John Misty proud, pondering the importance of seizing the moment when it presents itself – no more seizing the day, that ethos has already been taken – but “what the fuck does [he] know”.
A gig of intensity interwoven with moments of tenderness, such as the disco ball starting to spin during China Town, a slow and mellow track, making it feel like a high school prom. It was a heartwarmingly supportive crowd that, combined with Shakey’s phenomenal stage presence, created a uniquely pleasant atmosphere that is seldom experienced at gigs in such small venues. It can be difficult to keep the crowd’s attention as a one man band, but Shakey jovially encouraged everyone to clap along with the beat of the drum, a precious wee thing in a converted old briefcase, and even managed the cheeriest call and response I’ve ever participated in by gesticulating the pitch intonations with some wild moves and quietly confident spirit.
By the end, Shakey was sweating so profusely through his jumper it looked like he’d been for a dip and the mere sight of his thick glaze was making me burn up. The guy was putting so much passion into his performance I thought one of the veins bulging from his neck was going to burst – and that, is what a true musician looks like.