“I was just asked if I had a set list and … obviously not.” Alejandro Rose-Garcia told a sold-out High Noon Saloon crowd Friday night. Commonly known by his stage name Shakey Graves, the Austin, Texas, native made a stop through Madison, Wisconsin, on his And the War Came tour following the release of his latest album by the same name.
Graves brought some friends along to share the stage, treating the Madison audience to the presence of not one, but three of the folk scene’s hottest acts. First up was Esmé Patterson, an indie-folk songstress from Denver, Colorado, who got her start with Denver-based band Paper Bird and has recently been working as a solo artist. She started writing and performing with Graves last year and appears on three songs in And the War Came. In her opening set, she played a few songs from her solo album Woman to Woman as men in the crowd swooned over her powerful voice and petite stature.
When Patterson left the stage, it was time for the second act. Sean Rowe and his percussionist, Rex Hussmann, produced a monstrous sound that captured the attention of the bustling crowd. Hailing from Troy, New York, the duo included songs from Rowe’s third album Madman. When Hussmann turned to play the gigantic wooden marimba that stood next to him, he did so with his entire body, generating a force of electric energy that could have powered the entire venue. Rowe’s baritone voice and smooth guitar juxtaposed Hussmann’s energetic percussions and harmonies, turning lyrics about boyhood, fatherhood and nature into moving works of art.
By the time they turned it over to Graves, the crowd was erupting with anticipation and packed like sardines into the atmospheric venue. When he burst onto stage to tune his three guitars, he playfully joked with the crowd accepting teasing remarks about his short appearance as The Swede on the TV show “Friday Night Lights.” He also thanked Madison for being his first sold-out show on the tour and acknowledged the town’s resemblance to his hometown of Austin.
As he took off on his first few songs, he was the Graves fans had come to know, playing three instruments and singing at the same time as if it were second nature. The kick drum at his feet was made from an old orange suitcase, on which duct tape was placed to heal the wounds of jam sessions past. He started by teaching the crowd a few life lessons in his timeless storytelling tune, "Word of Mouth" and then filled the rest of the set with an even balance of songs from And the War Came and his 2011 album, Roll the Bones.
As if his sound wasn’t explosive enough already, he invited drummer Chris “Boo” Boosahda and guitarist Patrick “Pat from the Pit” O’Connor to accompany him in songs like “The Perfect Parts" and “Family and Genus.”
But the crowd was most excited when Patterson returned to join Graves on stage for a few songs they’ve written together, including an old-timey country tune called “Dearly Departed” that’s been growing in popularity since the pair performed it on Conan in October. Their harmonies are cheeky and melodic, infused with the undeniable chemistry between the two singer-songwriters.
When the show was said and done the crowd chanted for more. The Texan emerged with a bottle of tequila from which he took a swig before passing it on to the crowd, telling them to pretend it was whiskey as he serenaded the room in a love song about commercial grade moonshine and drunk driving.
By the culmination of his triple encore, there was an empty tequila bottle at the back of the 400-person crowd. Graves waved goodbye to the satiated audience and promised to return again soon.