Quiet whispers evaporated into the echoing chambers of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall as a couple hundred early attendees awaited an appearance from Philadelphia bedroom singer-songwriter, Alex Giannascoli (stage name (Sandy) Alex G). Initially gaining a core fan base from a sprawling DIY Bandcamp catalogue, Alex G’s official debut album DSU arrived in 2014 via Orchid Tapes. Following this release, Alex was signed by Domino Recording Company, who produced the fantastic 2015 follow-up Beach Music, as well as last year’s critical success, Rocket. Slated as tour opener for highly revered “touring band” Dr. Dog, Alex and his band were likely read as the underdog by a collective of bros and dads alike who were awaiting the inevitable arrival of Dr. Dog’s iconic Architecture in Helsinki cover.
This was a change of both scenery and scale for Giannascoli and co., whose last PDX appearance was at inner Eastside bar and venue, Holocene (326 Capacity), which is dwarfed in comparison to the Schnitz (2,776 cap.) In a comical and bewildering fashion, the band proudly marched their way onto stage to Tom Cochrane’s heartland rock ballad, “Life is a Highway.” “You guys like that song? I hate that song,” Alex teased while asserting the notion that they were there to pull the rug from underneath any stern or composed undertones of the formal concert hall.
Draped in deflated jeans and an assortment of half-buttoned patterned shirts, Giannascoli and his crew assembled themselves on stage in what resembled a triumphant talent show debut from a high school rock band (an image that doesn’t quite match with the complexity and maturity of his divergent sound). The band initiated the set with tranquil and reflective number “Remember,” the opening track of 2010 online contribution, Race. “Remember” unveils Alex’s longing for isolation, as he sang it live through gritted teeth with a stronger sense of urgency than is heard on the recording’s vocals. Without sparing a second between songs, the band jumped right into bouncy folk tune, “Proud,” followed by charming aural builder, “People.”
Thus far, the set seemed tailored to feature Alex’s more approachable material for show-goers who likely had not been exposed to his craft before this evening. Standing at the foot of the stage, Alex appeared routinely distracted by the traffic of patrons being led by staff to their appropriate section in the seated venue; frequently shifting his gaze to the far-too-bright flashlights illuminating all too frequently. Cruising at the same pace of previous tracks, the band rolled into a stripped rendition of laid-back surprise hit, “Bobby,” which was met with delight from the budding audience that had begun to permeate the concert hall. In a genuine and humbled gesture, Alex thanked the audience for cheering so much, still showing signs of wonder at the following he has accumulated. This tender moment was immediately followed with beautifully sarcastic one-liner: “alright, this next song is an original.” The boy knows balance.
Just as the audience had begun to feel settled by the comfortable folk-jams, the show abruptly pivoted, coming unhinged with distorted guitars and distant melodies; calling back to early inspirations from indie rock pioneers Built to Spill, Elliott Smith and Guided by Voices, respectfully. The band soared through heavy hitters “Serpent Is Lord,” “Bug,” and “Kicker;” each building atop the last in intensity. Dueling guitar bridges and bends were met with equally powerful percussion from a drum kit that appeared as if it had endured this sort of ritualistic beating on more than one occasion. Taking momentary solace, the band offered a taste of Alex’s masterful composition skills, utilizing the neglected keys on stage for Beach Music’s “Thorns,” where moody tonal shifts are met with upbeat scale climbs.
A prolonged absence in sound lingered as the band prepared for the next song. The uncomfortable silence was unexpectedly interrupted as Alex ferociously screamed, “Silence!” at full lung capacity, reminding us yet again to always remain on our toes in his presence. Offering no further context for the outburst, the band jumped into “Poison Root,” a complex track that had difficulty taking shape in a live setting, overcompensating for absent sounds in the wrong instruments, which ultimately drowned the song entirely. Bright burning stage lights illuminated the Schnitzer, revealing an almost packed house by this point in the show. The multi-instrumentalist then strutted to the keyboard as audible compliments of “sexiness” were shouted from the crowd, acknowledged by the singer who then went on to introduce his “sexy” band.
Latecomers and first-timers unfamiliar with the diverse soundscape of (Sandy) Alex G were subsequently exposed to radically experimental tracks “Brick” and “Horse” off of the 2017 album. The band didn’t hold back in the slightest in the building intensity—especially Alex, who cradled the keyboard and hovered over it, alternating from abrasive screams to menacing whines atop the chaotic swell of sound. In keeping with the tracklist of Rocket, the band smoothly transitioned into melodic pop number “Sportstar,” a successful antidote to the frantic environment they had previously worked so hard to build up. The band wrapped up their set with Rocket’s album closer “Guilty;” a peppy jazz ballad that allowed the band to spontaneously improvise, answering guitar licks with dancing keys, and vice versa.
The group seemingly appeared to have forgotten that the audience was even present as they laughed on stage with one another, while Alex nonsensically slapped at the keyboard, exemplifying that even amidst their rising fame, they’re still just a group of dorky jazz-band buds. Once the extended jam had concluded, Alex chugged the remainder of his drink and issued a simple “thanks” before exiting the stage to a deafening applause, ensuring that (Sandy) Alex G’s momentum is only just beginning.