Star quality. We saw Shakey Graves’ version of that elusive factor a few years ago in a small, dank basement in his hometown of Austin, Texas, and we saw it again at the well-appointed Irving Plaza nightclub in Manhattan. Graves plays more than adequate guitar, delivers his well-crafted songs in a distinctive rasp—or a croon or a shout, and all that good artistry will often lead to gigs in better-paying venues than dank basements, but Graves exhibits that charisma that demands our attention, and bigger venues.
At the sold-out Irving Plaza (SRO, capacity 1,200), Graves arrived in a wife-beater, jeans and guitar and left all of it drenched in sweat. He played “Dearly Departed,” a well-crafted song stamped with the mark of the Devil, and fans of the video found themselves climaxing during his solo turn of “Late July,” the unapologetic tale of a man on Death Row who tells us how he’ll “fry like bacon.” Graves drew out the song with fast and furious finger picking and played himself offstage, leaving the guitar propped up and feeding back as he departed.
Graves’ performances are not 100% feedback and raw energy, however: he includes slow, tender tunes with controlled energy as well. The encore, for example, “Hard Wired,” though sincere and relatively soft, still maintains that dark, bad-boy edge that keeps his audience riveted. It appears Shakey Graves himself is hardwired for success.
– Suzanne Cadgène
Photos by Leland Gorlin