The music of Shakey Graves is an odyssey through genres and worlds.
In the songs he performed at the Center for the Arts Monday, Alejandro Rose-Garcia — the man behind the moniker — wandered through dreamscapes and mansions, family life and death row, encompassing just about every realm of human life.
The first songs were mostly from his latest album, “Can’t Wake Up,” a surreal curveball of a record for an artist who rose to Americana renown with gritty, bare-bones folk rock. Distorted vocals and guitars added to the hazy psychedelia of newer songs like “Counting Sheep” and “Big Bad Wolf.”
Early on he also threw in a couple of tunes-in-the-making, such as “Not Wife,” an ode to all the random people we interact with in minor ways each day — “anyone who brings a bit of joy into that dark corner,” he said. He even tailored his lyrics to the venue.
“What are you doing offseason?” he sang, seemingly off the cuff. “Wanna hang out and go to the Patagonia store with me? That’d be cool.”
As he moved from style to style Garcia quaked with energy and charm. His voice is a sonic pendulum, swinging violently and unpredictably from lulling whispers to rasping howls. There’s no doubting that, from the moment he stepped onstage, he was genuinely happy to be there.
Frequently interlacing his songs with playful meditations on their meaning, Garcia offered his thoughts on desperation, love, anxiety and all the other emotions and ideas that saturate his music.
He prefaced “Dining Alone” as a whimsical reflection on how “you end up in these continuous holding patterns.” In “Tomorrow” he paused to cringe comically at the lyrics his younger self wrote and explained that “you can f--- up anything you put your heart and mind to in this world. You just can’t be afraid of it and not take steps forward.”
But then he started into “Word of Mouth,” a song about “all the bad advice you’ll get,” and wrapped up his insights with the admission that at the end of the day, he hasn’t the slightest idea when his or anyone else’s words are worth heeding.
Nevertheless, the audience enjoyed the commentary.
“It was cool to hear him talk and give his opinion on his songs,” said Charlie Jones, who works at Teton Mountaineering.
“Word of Mouth” also marked a turning point in the set. The band left the stage, and Garcia dragged his mic a few feet back, toward the signature suitcase kick drum and tambourine that until then had sat untouched at the center of the stage.
That showcased the one-man-band apparatus Garcia used to ascend from the Austin, Texas, music scene to a position of national eminence. Though the bulk of the show was still a full-band affair, he set aside time for the solo act his listeners so revere.
After a while he brought the band back out for a few high-intensity jams like “Built to Roam” and “The Perfect Parts,” inviting the crowd to holler along with the playful melodies.
The show wound down, the band left again, and Garcia revealed one last surprise — “Late July,” a fan favorite that epitomizes his troubadour roots and affirms his songwriting genius. As he finished the final verse he played rapturously, picking like lightning and stomping like thunder.
Then, as abrupt and fiery as any of his hoots and wails, came the final silence. ￼