Halfway through Shakey Graves's final Denver show of the weekend, he decided to bring out "a local badass" by the name of Gregory Alan Isakov. Together, with local fiddler Jeb Bows, they performed a cover of Townes Van Zandt's "Colorado Girl" that left few dry eyes in the sold-out Bluebird Theater. It was the most fitting song Alejandro Rose-Garcia could have played during his three-night run (all three sold out), because like Van Zandt, Rose-Garcia is a Texan whose true love might actually be Colorado.
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Shakey Graves is from Austin, Texas, and there is no debating that fact. The man has the sounds of the Hill Country running through his veins. Hell, you can hear the whole damn state in the opening riff of "The Perfect Parts," (his opener Saturday night). But for his second full-length release, And The War Came, he decided to recruit the music of Colorado, and that may be the reason he was able to sell out the Bluebird three times and make one of the best albums of the year. On stand-up bass for these shows was well-known Denver musician Macon Terry, and joining him for a handful of songs was Esme Patterson, who co-wrote a handful of the songs on that album. Shakey Graves understands how important place can be to sound, and he picked a fine city to borrow some sounds from. While the rhythm and soul of Austin may come through in the guitar riffs and bass lines, if I had walked into the Bluebird during the encore of "A Big Time Nashville Star" and someone had told me it was Esme's new local band on stage, I wouldn't have any doubts.
Though Shakey Graves understands the importance of place for musical inspiration, he also knows how to harness his own talent. Howling ragged melodies through clenched teeth, plucking away like a madman on an electric guitar and pounding his heels on his suitcase drum, the man is just a wonder to watch. He's country gone punk rock, the spiritual son of Johnny Cash and Johnny Rotten. He's able to tone down his fury and passion to fit his new backing band, which add layers he couldn't achieve on previous solo tours.
But when he's alone, just him and a guitar and that bright red suitcase, that is where he shines. He appropriately devoted almost half the show to just his solo songs, and it was hard not to be in awe watching him alone, then with his band, and then with some of Denver's favorite musicians, never once missing a note or cue through the changes. The man has serious chops, and it's going to take him far. Make no mistake, however, if Shakey Graves is the millennial Johnny Cash, then Esme Patterson is June. He better thank the stars above every night for what that woman and her voice have done for his career this past year.
To close out the show, Shakey Graves and Patterson performed "Dearly Departed," a song that is among the best and catchiest singles this year. There wasn't a soul in the theater not belting out the chorus: Back then baby, it didn't seem so strange, clapping and stomping along. That song is as much Esme as it is Alejandro, as much Colorado as it is Texas, and cements him as the new voice of both Hill Country and Rocky Mountain music.
Thanks for coming to Denver, Shakey Graves, and making it part of your home. We're happy to have you back anytime. • BACKBEAT'S GREATEST HITS •
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