By Ryan Harley
(Sandy) Alex G makes music that evades description by any one genre. At one moment he creates mournful country music, and then sugary-sweet idiosyncratic pop, and then hard-hitting alt-rock balladry. Whichever genre he’s working in, every minute musical detail is considered and finely tuned.
This production style, dependant on intricate detail and lush arrangement, tends not to translate well into a live four-piece band. It may be an obvious thing to state – but the sounds of fiddle sections, electronic flutes, and saxophone solos are not easily replicable by two guitars, a drum kit, and a bass.
But the Philadelphian’s songwriting prowess shines through perfectly in this setting; free of the decoration and embellishment that typifies his recorded work. When Alex’s songs are distilled down like this into their core elements, Alex G’s reputation as one of the finest songwriters of his generation shines through.
Perhaps then, in this spirit of distilling songs into their purest form, it was fitting that the band opened Sunday’s show at Saint Luke’s with a version of ’Gretel’ – the first single of Alex G’s newest record House of Sugar.
The set started with a swelling pre-recorded vocal track that moved around the old church hall muttering ‘I don’t wanna go back – nobody’s gonna push me off track, uh-huh’ – but just as the vocal loop finished, the band forewent all restraint and launched full force into a blistering version of ‘Gretel’; free from the little intricacies found on the House of Sugar version but making up for it in raw power and distorted guitars.
This theme continued throughout the night, with scaled-back versions of fan favourites ‘Bobby’ and ‘In My Arms’, and scaled-up versions of slower songs like ‘Change’ and ‘Kute” packing a huge punch in their new arrangements.
Obscure cuts off of Alex G’s older work, such as the much-revered non-album track ‘Be Kind’, were appreciated by the audience as much as anything off of his most recent records – and that serves as a testament to the quality of songwriting he has shown throughout his whole career.
Sunday’s show at Saint Luke’s served that (Sandy) Alex G is one of the great songwriting talents working in alternative music today. The energetic arrangements of his most well-loved material, and the equally transformed stripped back versions of his newest material, were lapped up by the audience in the packed out church hall. At every point in his career (Sandy) Alex G has produced consistently moving and exciting work, and nowhere was that more apparent than at Saint Luke’s on Sunday night.