Written by Erika Kindsfather
Alex Giannascoli of (Sandy) Alex G got his start as a bedroom songwriter and gained momentum through his Bandcamp page to his current status as a prolific indie musician compared unanimously by press to Elliot Smith, Pavement, and other genre-bending ‘90s favorites. On tour following the release of their eighth album Rocket, the group played in Montreal at Bar le Ritz PBD on July 4th with Japanese Breakfast and Cende. I arrived at the venue just as Japanese Breakfast was setting up their instruments, and at this point a considerable crowd had gathered. Japanese Breakfast was met with much energy and enthusiasm from the crowd, who voiced excitement at the reminder that the band’s sophomore album Soft Sounds from Another Planet will be out July 14th. After playing a set speckled with songs from their new album and seasoned favorites, Japanese Breakfast wrapped up and (Sandy) Alex G took the stage.
(Sandy) Alex G hails from Philadelphia, my own hometown, and hearing them live held a certain sentimental weight only intensified by their intimate, youthful sound. The crowd was packed with enthusiastic fans, all eyes fixed on the stage. The sets were particularly loud, with the drums rattling the floor. Many people without earplugs (like me) seemed to gravitate away from the stage as the concert progressed, either in attempt to escape a very hot crowd or the booming speakers. The atmosphere reminded me of a hot, crowded basement concert where the floor catches and reverberates every percussive pulse created by the musicians on a shallow stage. This, if anything, added to the charm of (Sandy) Alex G’s homegrown sound.
“Forever” off the album TRICK was played with upbeat instrumentals brighter than the album version. “Bobby” followed, again with instrumentals less folk-y than the mellow album track and missing Emily Yacina’s background vocals, but nonetheless captivating with a nostalgic quality. Molly Germer, master violinist who was featured on Rocket, wrote her part for “Bobby,” giving the song a folk-y vibe bordering on country and truly blending genres. “Witch,” “Bug,” and “Kicker,” three favorites off three very different albums, were played in a row to a welcoming audience.
One of my favorites off Rocket, “Brick” met the audience with sound distortions and aggressive screaming vocals by Giannascoli, an experimental shift from his earlier work, characterizing Rocket as his most diverse vision yet. (Sandy) Alex G also played “Alina” from Rocket, combining multi-layered vocals with a steady-paced folk instrumental backdrop. The set was long with over twenty songs played from a variety of his albums, from his self-released “Alex G” days to his most recent release on Domino Records. “Powerful Man,” “Guilty,” “Harvey,” and “Mary” were played before Giannascoli began taking requests from the audience. “Sarah” followed with its characteristic nostalgia and bittersweet lyrics.
After playing “Kute” and “Mis” by request, (Sandy) Alex G ended their set with “Brite Boy,” Michelle Zauner of Japanese Breakfast taking the stage to sing supporting vocals. After applause, the band exited and the audience slowly came out of their hazy state and dispersed from the sweaty standing area. The magic of (Sandy) Alex G live, beyond their technical mastery of instruments and sound styles, lies in their ability to tell open-ended stories and give no explanation, something that Giannascoli has commented on HERE as preserving the “personal magic” of a song.