Shakey Graves. Red Rocks. 05.27.16
The Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison, Colorado has stood as one of the most beautiful places to see live music for over seventy-five years now. The venue is iconic in every way imaginable, but it is also surprisingly intimate for a space that accommodates over nine thousand people. There is frequently a sense of rapport between the musicians and their fans rarely felt in similarly sized venues across the country. That sense of community was on display last night when three very diverse acts used the amphitheater to demonstrate the many forms folk music can take.
The Wood Brothers knocked the chill out of the early evening air with their 70’s-influenced roots rock set. Songs like “American Heartache”, “Postcards from Hell”, and an outstanding cover of The Band’s “Ophelia” sounded just fine as the crowd wrapped themselves tight in a whiskey blanket. The Devil Makes Three used their headlining spot to warm things up as well. Their throwback bluegrassey set spanned well into the late hours of the night. But it was Shakey Graves who really brought the Red Rocks family together.
As intimate as the venue may be, the stage at Red Rocks is extremely large. It can be a mighty lonely (and intimidating) place to be all by yourself. Alejandro Rose-Garcia cast a large shadow though, so he was never really alone. From the moment he appeared on the stage, with nothing more than his guitar and a heel-powered suitcase kick-drum, he was engaged with the audience as if we were all old friends.
Situated in front of a gigantic rock wall, and surrounded by equipment that didn’t belong to him, Rose-Garcia started the set with a warning. The world had begun to darken and shadows of skulls projected against the twin monoliths…
“if you value your life, stay off the drugs
if you value the drugs, stay off the map.
if you value maps, you better travel son.
if you don’t want to travel, then you better run”
Lyrics like those are hard to ignore. So by the time Rose-Garcia actually spoke to the audience, during a short interlude after the third verse, he had everyone’s undivided attention. “Looking out at you makes me want to get down on my hands and knees and go woooooooo!” The feeling was mutual. A resounding roar of encouragement could be heard across the Front Range as the one-man band threatened the noise ordinance regulations.
Having never seen Shakey Graves perform live, I wasn’t prepared for the stream-of-consciousness banter between (and even during) some of the songs. At one point we were told to “flash your guns, like all the people doing paleo and crunches with their dogs out here.” I can only assume he meant ‘cardio’ and was referring to people running the stairs earlier, but as more words came flooding out of his mouth, I decided that making assumptions about anything would probably be ignorant on my part.
Referencing the sense of community that I mentioned earlier, he assured us “you can’t do it all by yourself.” Hence the encouragement the crowd received to participate; in the form of harmony and the actual singing of verses back at him. Then, right before bringing out a few other musicians to assist, he self-corrected with “actually, there are lots of things you can do by yourself.” That type of one-side conversation could have been a distraction if it weren’t so damn entertaining.
Backed by “some people very close to my heart,” Rose-Garcia was able to gain some mobility on the large stage he occupied. A couple additional guitars and a banjo added sonic depth to the next couple songs, but it was the presence of a live drummer that freed him from his stationary spot by the suitcase. He took advantage of the expanded band to become physically unhinged as he stomped around in circles during “Pansy Waltz”. His voice and stage presence brought to mind the Kings of Leon before they became an arena-sized act.
Finding himself alone once again, Rose-Garcia introduced “a two-part song.” The first, “Stereotypes of a Blue Collar Male”, was presented as a song he wrote when he was 22 years old. It was a little folk ditty about being young and dumb. The second song, “Hard Wired”, was presented as a song he wrote about what an idiot he was when he was 22 years old (“when the worst people made the best friends”). It was another little folk ditty, but coming from a protagonist with a little more grit (and knowledge) in his voice.
More random tidbits…
About being an asshole: “Might as well get it out of your blood before you’re old AND an asshole. Do you want to come to the best party of your whole life? No, I gotta stay home and record something on tv and masturbate.”
Changing lyrics: “Well, she said kiss me and lord I listened” became “Well, she said kiss me and I said whoa, what the fuck? Like right now?” and later, “Well, she said kiss me and lord I listened” became “Well, she said kiss me and I said fuck you, follow your dreams.”
The true meaning of “Proper Fence”: “She died at the end. I know you’re thinking it’s all dick stuff, but she was stabbed and she died.”
The other musicians were brought back out “To Cure What Ails…” And then the musical highlight of the night was presented in the form of “Dearly Departed”. Colorado’s own Esmé Patterson wasn’t able to make it, “but we have you and this trampoline!” So yes, that happened. Nine thousand people sang Esmé’s part in that haunting breakup song while Alejandro Rose-Garcia bounced up and down on a mini trampoline. Because why not? We really were just a bunch of old friends by that point.
It could have ended there, but “Where a Boy Once Stood” (with all its screaming and shouting and waking “the silent mountains”) just added weight to the reality of where we were all standing; in a venue that had been there long before most of us were born, and would continue to be there long after we were gone.
Word of Mouth
If Not For You
Stereotypes Of A Blue Collar Male / Hard Wired
To Cure What Ails…
Where a Boy Once Stood