Here in Arizona, the desert heat feels like Texas, the dusty highways feel like Texas, and the numerous barbeque options feel like Texas. But other than that, you have to travel east for the unique aesthetic of our nation’s largest state — or just set foot inside a venue where Shakey Graves is playing. You’ll be immediately transported (in a good way.)
The Sleepwalker Tour supporting Shakey Graves’ and Lauren Ruth Ward’s latest albums was a night of good old fashioned bluesy rock and roll reminiscent of decades and classic artists past. (This throwback setting explained the crowd of mostly middle-aged couples and groups of friends, some sporting fedoras or cowboy hats.) The beer was flowing, and the weekend vibe had already set it.
You’ve already read about opening act Lauren Ruth Ward, but watching her live makes me want to be wearing a tight red dress holding a cigarette and a whiskey neat. She’s sexy and gritty and exuberant, and she is the kind of cool that can pull off rainbow striped pants and several colors in her hair.
“I almost wore khaki trousers,” she laughed after someone shouted a compliment about her wardrobe. “Vegas can get the khaki trousers.”
Ward and her band tore through staples like “Make Love to Myself” and “Blue Collar Sex Kitten” while the audience watched in awe. Her raw vocals soar in a way that can’t be tapped in a recording studio, and she worked the stage like a true pro.
Still, though, she stays humble and true to her roots. She politely asked the collective audience if she could take a photo of us, mumbling, “Look, mom, it really happened!” Her excitement and gratitude were palpable in this moment, and she was sure to acknowledge those who helped her along the way. It was interesting — she closed out her set saying, “We are Lauren Ruth Ward,” a full team effort.
It’s safe to say all eyes were on the stage after Lauren Ruth Ward, an act that would surely be tough to follow. But, you can never underestimate the power of an actor/singer double threat like Shakey Graves.
Born Alejandro Rose-Garcia, the Austin native had a full spectacle in store for his set. Retro television displays and a marquee sign bearing his stage name were the backdrop, and mood lighting set the tone. He opened with a perennial favorite, “Roll the Bones,” to the delight of the now-packed venue.
Shakey Graves, always the entertainer, had to tell us a story in between songs. The story was about Garth Nazarth, a man who blames everything on other people. He would dream too big and wouldn’t look at what was already in front of him. This part of the performance harkened back to his “busker” days entertaining patrons attending the Edward Sharpe and Mumford & Sons Railroad Revival Tour
“Counting Sheep” must have been the agreed-upon song to film because the crowdscape was a sea of cell phones, but technology stayed stored for most of the rest of the show — except, as promised, encore “Dearly Departed.”
As the sounds of pure Americana drifted through the air, I couldn’t help but think about this genre is the musical equivalent of comfort food. It’s easy and steady and sometimes just what you need, and if it’s done well then it will be something you go back to again and again. It feels as though all is well, and you can take a moment and enjoy it peacefully. Lauren Ruth Ward and Shakey Graves brought that feeling on Thursday night, and I can’t wait to see them again.