I agreed to review this gig without listening to either band and using the old school method of just really liking Shakey Graves name and imagining him as a young blues singer with dark troubled lyrics, yes I had been sent a couple of songs to listen too but chose to go in blind as it has always been a good way to judge new bands for me, he delivered on that promise in part.
The fact this gig was sold out well in advance and tickets were changing hands online for 3 or 4 times face value suggests that Shakey Graves is a Texan act on the rise and not to be missed while still playing venues as small as The Garage with its’s 600 capacity. This being one of the coldest nights in years it was good to see the Garage fairly full by the time I got in just as opening act Cat Clyde was coming on.
From the start of her set it was obvious that Cat Clyde has a really gorgeous guitar tone and can really pick and play her acoustic guitar she reminded me of seeing Michelle Shocked for the first time but with far less chat between songs. The first song about wanting a partner back sounded cool but it was the second song Sheets Of Green that really grabbed me a great song where her guitar sounded like Bert Jansch and her vocals were a bit Joan Baez just great.
She then told us this was her very first London show as she was over on tour from Canada to promote her debut album Ivory Castanets, before playing what I guess was You Don’t Need Me Anymore a rather careworn tale of love gone wrong with guitar picking that had elements of Fairport style folk and a bit of bluesy edge to it, either way her voice was full of emotion.
It quickly became apparent to me that Cat Clyde is the best new Canadian act I’ve seen since Corb Lund first played here about 20 years ago, the new song she played A Reason To Change was like a road map out of another bad relationship and to a brighter future, which will hopefully be touring the world playing music as great as this.
Heavy Weight has some very cool lyrics but it was all about the picking on the guitar that was just bewitching and brilliant throughout her set. Even if by the end of her set I thought she might have played a song or two too many when she closed with The River and really let loose with her vocals it was just wonderful to hear. I’d love to see her play live again and if possible with backing band to really fill things out.
After the break Shakey Graves came on solo and plugged in his hollow bodied electric guitar and opened with a very bluesy song that also had him playing a suitcase bass drum that sounded awesome the first song was about choosing a partner I think but it had some very nice down home guitar that had echoes of Jnr Kimbrough and was full of passion and the crowd loved it.
The next song that I guess was Whose To Blame had a really insistent bass drum beat and cool guitar and I liked the vocals when he kept them in his lower register but the falsetto while getting plenty of cheers didn’t connect with me in the same way.
He then brought out his band and changed to a white Solid body electric guitar and as they started to play what Shakey introduced as being a song about Igloos all the blues had left the sound and they sounded rather like they had been listening to too many Glenn Frey solo albums while wanting to sound like Steve Winwood circa Arc Of A Diver yes they sounded rather 1980’s AOR but without the terrible drum sound.
He was then singing about having Teeth Like his on what may have been the Pansy Waltz which had some very cool lyrics and he kept out of the falsetto a bit more which was good it also had one of the first real singalongs of the set as everyone else seemed to know the song.
Shakey told us it was his second ever London show and his bands first one which is cool for them and as Shakey started a Pussy Pussy Pussy routine that then led into the next song they all seemed to be hamming it up a bit and sadly it was getting more AOR borderline landfill indie and less bluesy and interesting for me as no matter how energetic Shakey was they seemed to lose a bit of momentum.
If Not For You was next and had some cool lyrics that had everyone singing along with him and having a good time even if it was as bland musically as they got all night, They played one more song with the band before they left Shakey to go back solo again.
Well I guess the first solo song was If You Wave that brought the blues fully back and he sounded a lot better by himself more natural and in the zone for the three solo songs we got 2 of which seemed to be crowd favourites.
He brought the band back out for Give Up or whatever it was called that sort of meandered in a way that wasn’t as great as the reception it got. Not sure what the next song was but the last song he played with the band about Family Values sounded pretty good and just left Shakey to close the set with a heartfelt love song that went down a treat.
He soon came back for a well-earned encore that he introduced as being Chinatown that didn’t sound too closely based on the film or Luna’s song of the same name, but it was a good finished to what for me was a bit of a mixed set. I really liked the bluesy end of things and was less interested in the more middle of the road stuff but it’s clear he has enough going on to be filling decent sized venues all over the place.
Live Review by Simon Phillips & photography by Sarah Sievers of Shakey Graves and Cat Clyde Live at the Garage Highbury Corner London 27.2.18.