I couldn’t have picked a better way to celebrate America’s birthday. Kicking things off was Cende: simple, no-nonsense pop music played at a deafaning volume. Bouyed by their youthful energy and unpolished style, they ripped through a short set of formulaic yet enjoyable tunes. Following up, Japanese Breakfast slowed it down a notch with their slinky psych jams, tasteful bass riffs and shiny synth bouncing around underneath the ever-yearning lead vocals.
When the hour was upon us, the chorus of ‘Life is a Highway’ rattled the Ritz soundsystem as Alex and his band rolled onstage. The music hit fast and hard, coursing through the audience and uniting the room within moments with an impressive sense of command, especially for such a relatively young group. The majority of the set was dedicated to his latest album Rocket, including the early standout track ‘Bobby’ and its welcome addition of fiddle to the band’s instrumentation. Though much gentler on the album, the live addition of a stomping drumbeat allowed the song to hit even harder than I thought possible, leaving the crowd torn between head-bobbing and slow-dancing.
The songs are chunky and essential, like semi-polished stones, always build around the core of Alex’s raw voice. He sings mostly through clenched teeth, every measured note spat out, hints of the reserved energy that’s being held back. Only once did the dam breach, during an incredible rendition of ‘Brick’ — an explosive track in which he suddenely erupts in a scream as the guitars howl and rage only to drop away after a minute, giving way to the next piano-driven ballad.
Being an avid listener for years and having followed the group for some time, I can vouch that the presence of 2017 (Sandy) Alex G is immediately undeniable. The band is at its most fluid, less buttoned-down than ever, and with a masterful command of Alex’s expansive discography. They closed out the set by spending near half an hour just taking requests from the audience, not once balking at a buried gem from the depths of his Bandcamp but rather dropping into it confidently at a moment’s notice. The generosity of this final act may have dragged on too long for those less invested in the music, but for the fans it was glorious.