(Sandy) Alex G

(Sandy) Alex G and Half Waif at First Unitarian Church, Philadelphia, PA, November 16, 2018,

Dec 05, 2018 Web Exclusive
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It's hard to say which version of a two-set show is better: one with an unheard-of opener who commands the room and becomes a favorite new discovery, or one with a popular opener who's already as well-regarded as the headliner. (Sandy) Alex G and Half Waif's recent sold-out show at Philadelphia's First Unitarian Church, which has also recently hosted acts including IDLES, Big Thief, and SALES, is certainly in the latter category. Half Waif, real name Nandi Rose Plunkett, has been having a breakthrough yearthis show occured a week after her Tiny Desk session premieredand (Sandy) Alex G has steadily gained a fervent, nationwide fanbase over the past half-decade.

He's also from Philly. It's hard to talk about musicians who got their start playing shows in Philly without mentioning him. His reputation here ensured a room that was crowded from the very start of the night, meaning that Half Waif had a substantial opening crowd to impress (surely including many of her own numerous fansit's just that the headliner's hometown crowd is, well, a big deal). Even though, in her Tiny Desk concert, she's backed by "Full Waif" (her wordplay-heavy title for the live band consisting of everyone who's currently, or has ever been, in Half Waif), at this show, she played a majestic solo set that captivated the room.

Flanked by just a few synths and a MIDI controller, Plunkett played an energizing, 11-song set comprised mostly of songs from her Cascine-released 2018 sophomore album, Lavender. Even though she had no drummer on stage with her, the percussion on "Lilac House" knocked harder in this Philadelphia church's basement than on Lavender, and this increased heft emboldened what's already a battering electropop elocution. The swell of percussive pitter-patter on "In the Evening" proved flooring as it emerged from Plunkett's MIDI controller rather than an actual drum kit. "Severed Logic," a highlight from 2017's form/a EP, bounced even more robustly in concert thanks to Plunkett's digital drums. During the latter track, she stepped away from her instrumental setup to dance for a while, and the audience absolutely loved experiencing this with her. The crowd similarly dug her brand-new, never-before-played song "Capsule," a piano ballad that reminded showgoers how poignant a writer Plunkett is even before she embellishes her music with electronics.

By the end of Plunkett's set, the crowd's size had swelled from a strong showing into a rapturous, room-consuming horde. (Sandy) Alex G took the stage not even half an hour after Plunkett's set finished, and frontperson Alex Giannascoli and his bandmates walked on to "Life Is a Highway." As entry music goes, this song is fair enough in light of Giannascoli's most recent album, Rocket, which pushes the acerbic weirdness of his home-spun, sour rock recordings in a more jittery, country-influenced direction while somehow making his music infinitely more accessible.

A (Sandy) Alex G live set is the perfect way to be reminded that Giannascoli's music is truly fucking bizarre. Roughly even distributed among Rocket and its preceding albums Trick, DSU, and Beach Music (plus three songs from none of these collections), the night's selections displayed Giannascoli's penchant for lining up notes and sonic effects that, layered and sequenced, sound as dissonant, antsy, and unwell as they do beguiling and unforgettable. They further showcased his appetite for lyrics that veer on surreal, nonsensical, and knowingly immature as they depict all-too-familiar human emotions including pride, joy, lust, and anger. Emanating from his rock-band live setup (plus occasional strings courtesy of Molly Germer and a few songs in which Giannascoli switched to piano and synths instead of guitar), his songs took on an even more jagged edge than in their barbed, irregular recorded forms.

Longtime classics such as Trick's "Sarah," DSU's "After Ur Gone," and Beach Music's "Brite Boy" (okay, the latter isn't quite yet "longtime," but to Giannascoli's fans, almost anything he does is an instant classic) bit even more harshly live than on their recorded versions. These are among the very most caustic of his songs as is, but their more aggressive, percussively forceful live renditions perfectly testify that Giannascoli's form of abrasion is usually not aggressive. The bile that his live versions force up speak wonders to how his recordings express their dismay, their fascination, their exuberance through gritted teeth, through whispers, through snarls rather than screams (save "Brick" and some others).

"Kicker," from Beach Music, is a great example. The guitar riff that guides the song sounds, for lack of a better word, disgusting. It's never quite properly on the beat, and the chords that comprise it are gritty (as is his hometown's favorite NHL mascot) enough as is. It sounds fantastic, specifically because it's not loud or grating. Live, it and other songs were loud and grating, and to a crowd full of excited 20-somethings, this mode of sonic expression bursts with delight. Giannascoli's charm lies in how he exudes just the right amount of acidity in his recordings; watching him go full-throttle nuts live is thus incredible, a huge part of how he's developed such a vast nationwide following.

Rocket grew his fanbase perhaps the most of any of his albums, and even though it's his most immediate album to date, it's not short on bizarre adventures. "Horse" in particular comes to mind as another entry in the coveted hall of Giannascoli songs that elicit reactions along the lines of, "What the fuck is going on here?" Its appearance about two-thirds of the way into (Sandy) Alex G's 24-song sethis songs don't often exceed three minutes, so the set didn't feel 24 songs longserved as a highlight of the night and a reminder that, no matter how far Giannascoli goes, he'll always be a complete musical nutjob. And that's really all anyone came to see.

www.sandyalexg.com

www.half-waif.com

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Ronald Mak
December 9th 2018
8:48am

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