LIVE: (Sandy) Alex G @ EartH, London

Philadelphia's cult icon brought a comprehensive and cathartic performance to a sweltering (over-) capacity show at EartH.
Posted: 17 February 2020 Words: John Bell
By now the once enigmatic figure of Alex Giannascoli – better known by the appropriately perplexing title (Sandy) Alex G – has drawn away from the niche, DIY circles he had long been associated with and has stepped confidently into something of an alternative icon.

In a way this move began with 2017’s Rocket, which won him sweeping, perhaps overzealous praise (well, almost), but last year’s House of Sugar further refined and crystalised Giannascoli’s distinct skill of balancing and weaving together dramatically stark styles, melodies and moods into a warm, satisfying whole.

This status is soon reflected by the overwhelming mass that has filled the sweltering hall of Evolutionary Arts Hackney (EartH), and that begins to swell as Giannascoli and his band walk onto a darkened stage to the choppy electronica backdrop of ‘Project 2’. Tonight is sold out, and more accurately seems oversold, but what discomfort comes from navigating through a hefty unit of Londoners is redeemed by an equally hefty sound, as the acoustic strumming of ‘Gretel’ is replaced by grizzly, distorted guitars. The low notes hit with an explosive burst of air, setting the scene for the contrasting dynamics of the song’s climax: “I don’t wanna go back / Nobody’s gonna push me off track”.

The opener also seems to highlight a level of sophistication in the way the 27-year-old has approached translating his notoriously layered and multi-textured songs to the stage, albeit one might be pushed to call the chaotic, Death Grips-esque ‘Brick’ – which Giannascoli jokingly introduces as a “crowd pleaser” mid-set – as sophisticated. But whether it’s the familiar folk-balladry of ‘Bobby’, ‘Hope’ or ‘Southern Sky’, which all make an early appearance and rely on a pleasingly like-for-like rendition, or more testing tracks such as the warbling ‘Walk Away’ that require a little more interpretation, none of his vast arsenal of material feels without consideration or unfulfilled in a live context.

He’s not much of a talker, as is evident from a set that seems to sprawl endlessly to the two-hour mark, with two encores including requests from the audience, but it’s clear he’s having fun, from a questionably catchy rendition of Blink 182’s ‘What’s My Age Again?’ to the announcement that this will be his last show ever – said with enough false conviction that hardly anyone takes the comment seriously. The evening’s most powerful glimpse, though, is ‘SugarHouse’ in the last moments of the first set. The closing song on Giannascoli’s ninth record is swathed in gorgeous, warm and almost sleazy nostalgia that seems to brew a sense of finality, and this feeling is only amplified when palpably brought to life.

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