ACL Review: (Sandy) Alex G

Frank Ocean collabo steps center stage with his own sonic kinks

The first chunk of songwriter Alex Giannascoli’s discography, a smattering of Bandcamp releases and YouTube songs, is music made for enclosed spaces. Audibly bedroom-recorded, his early work captured an enthralling, off-kilter melancholy destined for huddled clubs and sock-covered mics.

Photo by Gary Miller

On this year’s Domino release Rocket, the Philly artist expanded to unexplored genres and open-air locales. On ACL Fest’s opening Friday 2017, his early afternoon set on the Barton Springs stage presented a one-hour live translation of the album’s prolific country and hardcore moments.

In front of a crowd of a couple hundred, many who maybe caught wind of the previously cult-ish figure after he lent guitar to Frank Ocean’s 2016 albums, Giannascoli launched back-to-back festival-edible tracks. His standard fourpiece setup of grinning, T-shirted DIY guys warped Rocket’s various sound sources, the guitarist giving his Fender the steel guitar treatment, while a backup singer played at vocal looper.

At “Poison Root,” the performance diverged into the album’s queasier experimentalism. Rather than being dulled live, the material became humanized as arranged by Giannascoli and company onstage. His drummer worked overtime on thunderous peaks, sprinting ahead of the singer’s somber chant: “Now I know everything.”

Shit hit the fan on “Brick” when Giannascoli hovered demonically over a previously idle keyboard. His neutral sneer became Aphex Twin-esque whilst screaming a beginning then slamming dissonant tones. Loungy track “Guilty” concluded with precisely executed chaos. Churned techno beats clamored beneath namesake rocket sounds, swerving abruptly into a recorded yacht rock intermission as the frontman switched back to guitar.

Cruising continued on an unexpected final slew of past work, from self-descriptive “Black Hair” to thumpy closer “Icehead,” all of it riddled with Giannascoli’s trademark sonic kinks of catchy strangeness. New blasts and old croons alike, (Sandy) Alex G presented a sound grown big enough to fill up Zilker Park.

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