By Tony Inglis
CCA, Glasgow, 18 October 2017
About three quarters of the way through Alex G’s set at the CCA (or (Sandy) Alex G, as he has rebranded himself this year so as not to be confused with the dumbfounding uber popularity of a similarly named YouTube star), the eponymous Alex Giannascoli takes a swig from an already half empty bottle of bourbon and proclaims: “I’m a slob. I’m just an American slob”.
This belies his clean-cut appearance, but it is indicative of this goofy, enthralling, at times slapdash, gloriously shambolic, performance.
It all starts off relatively innocuously. A last-minute tune-up precedes an opening rendition of ‘Judge’ which begins a series of songs – ‘Proud’, ‘Bobby’, ‘Witch’ – that tell simply put, but detailed, stories of misfits, the misunderstood, the forgotten. Giannascoli and his band steam through these vignettes, beautifully put to record on this year’s Rocket, with little to no let up. They are tight, virtuosic. Giannascoli represents a kind of everyman but, at the same time, his voice can be ethereal, his words dark.
A noticeable change comes halfway through the set as Giannascoli abandons his frontman position and becomes crouched over a keyboard, all but obscured by the audience at the front of the room. After a little difficulty getting a sustain effect just right (a glimpse into this prolific, noted perfectionist), he plays Rocket highlight ‘Sportstar’, the song that most reflects his work collaborating with Frank Ocean on his 2016 return.
The narrator of ‘Sportstar’ may be hubristic, but the narration itself is delicate. From here, the band launch into Giannascoli’s far more challenging material. Even his most conventionally guitar-led songs are steeped in weirdness, but from this point, you’re either with him or you’re gone, and he knows exactly what he’s doing.
‘Horse’ is a madcap, frenetic instrumental; ‘Brick’ is angry, noisy and strained, closer to Death Grips than a country twang. On record, this genre blending straddles a very fine line but ends up effortless. Live it is bracing and difficult. The shift is especially jarring as the CCA’s theatre venue has a certain hush about it – as is expressed by support act Ó. It is far more sophisticated than any of the basement clubs across the city centre’s Sauchiehall Street.
This is a perplexing portion of the night, if one takes issue with Giannascoli’s willingness to discard some of his more immediate, crowd-pleasing tunes in favour of the eccentric and abrasive.
However, sticking with this section – for me no less a delight – makes what’s to come even more joyful. After the unexpected highlight of Rocket opener ‘Poison Root’ – the cacophonous drums rising to a clamouring peak as Giannascoli recites his mantra to this mythical knowledge-bringing plant – the set list comes to an abrupt end, only for Giannoscoli to start taking requests from the crowd.
A raucous rendition of ‘Animals’ and the transcendent ‘Change’ and ‘Brite Boy’ later, it all comes to an uproarious end – Alex G with mic in one hand, a bottle in the other, making up some weird ditty in amongst the crowd. It may have all been on the brink of falling apart, but his unquestionable talent held it all together beautifully.
Featured photo credit: Tonje Thilesen