There was his stage name, Shakey Graves, meant to recall shambling bluesmen of the past, as did the fact that Graves played much of his set solo, with just his guitar and an old, beat-up guitar case for some percussion. He was a man out of time, or at least he very much wanted to be.
But appearances aside, Graves proved that he had something new to offer the genre of jangly nu-folk practiced by such bands as The Head and the Heart and The Lumineers.
He started off with “The Donor Blues,” which immediately highlighted his smoky, well-traveled voice. Throughout the show, Graves played the earnest troubadour, whether by infusing some unexpected humor into a song about a lost love (“Proper Fences”) or bantering with the crowd. He also knew when to shift gears, using the spare, propulsive force of “Roll the Bones” to create a rocking moment that helped build momentum.
Though Graves has played mostly solo shows before, he added a drummer and guitarist halfway through his set. The sound filled out as you might expect, but it also led to a bland version of “House of Winston,” a new track from Graves’ October release “And the War Came” that featured atmospheric guitars reminiscent of Kings of Leon. That’s not to say the song sounded bad — in fact, it was probably the slickest tune of the night — but it did feel oddly out of place compared to the show’s lo-fi start.
Also strange was that the crowd seemed less engaged once the band joined Graves, despite an insistent beat and authoritative, fuzzed-out guitars on “Family and Genius.” Graves recaptured the momentum when he switched out his two bandmates for opener Esme Patterson, who collaborated with him on “And the War Came.”
She also joined Graves for “Call It Heaven” and the rousing closing number “Dearly Departed,” which allowed Patterson and Graves to meld their voices into an effective harmony and prove why the song has over 3 million listens on Spotify.
It was an uplifting moment that made you completely forget the artifice of Graves’ stage image.