Washington, DC, can bring out the best in musicians who see the chance to pour it on extra thick and make it an unforgettable night for their fans in the nation’s capital.
And it seems that the most inspirited and engaging songwriters and performers always recall their own past visits to the district, a town that presents traveling artists with far more options for sightseeing than the average tour stop.
Shakey Graves recently paid a visit to DC, where he turned in a remarkable performance at The Atlantis, the new 400-person club situated just next door to 9:30 Club. And along with a choice batch of his emotionally-supercharged tunes, Shakey — whose birthname is Alejandro Rose-Garcia — shared stories of previous trips to Washington, including a psychedelic experience that lives on in one of his songs.
Taking the stage by his lonesome to start on August 8, a wide-eyed and conversant Shakey addressed the room in casual, unguarded fashion, answering calls from the sold-out crowd, giggling and smiling from ear to ear as he got himself prepared for a series of solo songs before being joined by his full band.
Listen to Shakey Graves’ new EP, featuring songs from his forthcoming album, Big In The World, via Spotify:
Having found his calling as a musician by way of busking, his first three tunes last week featured him in his element: pounding his homemade suitcase drum/percussion contraption with his right foot, a packed room before him, with onlookers from above.
He tipped his cap, threw his head back and raised his gripping howl of a voice, rewarding the audience with a raw take on the 2016 single “Tomorrow” and then “Built To Roam” and “Unlucky Skin” from his 2011 premiere Roll The Bones, which got a proper 10th anniversary revamp in 2021.
Guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Patrick O’Connor joined Shakey with the harmonica for “Unlucky Sin” as he introduced his crew one at a time: Taylor Craft on bass, Matt Pence playing drums, Cameron Neal on keys and Dancey Jenkins on synth.
After a few comments directed at his past life as a child actor, Alejandro played along, joking that his “theme of the night” was spies, spying and all things related to espionage. For those who had no clue this was an amusing reference to Spy Kids, the 2001 film in which a young Rose-Garcia appeared as part of his early acting career.
At The Atlantis, attendees heard crashing takes on Shakey essentials like “The Donor Blues,” which he revealed to be written in Upstate NY, of all places. He and his band amplified some of his most popular tunes and provided provocative textures to tracks like the recent collab with Sierra Ferrell, “Ready or Not,” and “Kids These Days” from 2018’s Can’t Wake Up.
Watch the official music video for Shakey Graves’ “Ready or Not” featuring Sierra Ferrell via YouTube:
The appearance was a timely one, as the following day Shakey released new songs “Big In The World” and “Playing Along,” two more to be included on his next album, Move of the Week, which will drop in mid-September. Fans heard early takes on “Playing Along,” as well as “Evergreen,” another recent single to be included on the new album.
He shared his experiences in DC as he went, speaking with admiration about the adjacent 9:30 Club. He said that he’d “left samples of myself all over that 9:30 Club dressing room” and shared his eagerness to headline the popular V Street venue on Nov. 13.
“I have a bizarre history with this place,” he said of the capital.
Shakey reminisced about spending the day in DC for a previous gig, dropping acid and taking in the sights. That adventurous day, he shared, lives on in lyrics written for the track “Call It Heaven” from his fantastic 2014 album And The War Came. And though he kept his promise by mumbling about death and the impending end of the world, he was above all else festive in hosting a splendid presentation of the stirring songs he’s written.
“Some of the last years have been some of the most insane of my life,” Rose-Garcia told the room, offering a toast to all attendees and their families. “Things can change at the drop of a hat, for any reason.”
Built to Roam (solo)
Unlucky Skin (solo)
The Donor Blues
Ready or Not
Family and Genius
Kids These Days
Devil May Care
The Perfect Parts
Hard Wired (solo)
Roll The Bones (solo)
Here are images of Shakey Graves along with the night’s opening act, Abraham Alexander, performing at The Atlantis on the night of August 8, 2023. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Ryan Vock.