Review: (Sandy) Alex G Lights Up Bottom Lounge 6/28

I always feel, like many, a certain kind of trepidation when going to see an artist I love but haven’t seen live before. This feeling intensifies when said artist is someone like (Sandy) Alex G, a voice I’ve come to love and know exclusively in the hushed cave of headphones. Alex G has cultivated a fan base that could be called nothing short of tragically hip – no, not the band, just a group of people that tend toward the cringeworthy. A parade of 90s Goodwill fashions traipsed into the Bottom Lounge Wednesday night, complete with platformed sneakers and grandpa glasses, ready to have their sensitive souls sated with the slightly off-key mumblings of Alexander Giannascoli. Granted, I was among this crowd, also waiting to see what this live show would be like.

Rocket – (Sandy) Alex G

When Alex finally took the stage after tour-mates Cende and Japanese Breakfast, the sold-out all ages room roared with glee. Artists with cult followings like Alex tend to elicit a special kind of energy. Without need to introduce himself, Alex and the band launched into some favorites from his recent album Rocket. Filled with folk-rock staples that lean a little country at times, the album is different than his previous in its ability to sound a little more forward – many of the songs sit in a cozy bed of banjos and strings, with Alex’s voice coming a little out of its quiet cocoon. It even comes with a new name: the addition of (Sandy) to the simple moniker he’s gone by since his debut. The second song of the night, my personal favorite, “Bobby,” had a violinist joining the group. “That’s Molly,” he said as she smiled and shrugged her way offstage after the number. At this point in the evening, my friend and I realized that this show was going to be way louder than one might ever expect from him. The drums were chest-pounding, and the guitars peaked with angular, screaming tones. Even his falsetto was strong and loud.

Alex sings with a strange intensity, and it becomes clear as you watch him that an angry punk boy is boiling just underneath this mild, button downed surface. About halfway through the set, it boils over. Alex lets loose, screams like a high school heavy metal fan, and the crowd of under 21 year olds begins moshing. A crowdsurfer even joins the ranks, and when he lands on the stage directly in front of the band, Alex lets out an amused, “Dude…” The band continued to wind through new and old favorites, including “Mary” in the encore, a song with lyrics that sound like a screwed up children’s poem:

Mary is the girl that I wanna kiss
She’s got big red eyes and big red lips
She’s got big sharp teeth and big fat hips

In another song, “Poison Root,” he sings of an experience with a substance that he dug up from the “poison tree,” and now he knows “everything.” He encores with the ambling “Brite Boy,” bringing out Japanese Breakfast’s Michelle Zauner to join him on the verses.

Brite boy I can help you if you let me take your hand
Bring you right to promise land, bring you right to promise

Part of (Sandy) Alex G’s charm is this juxtaposition of teenage angst and sage wisdom, all coming from this skinny, stringy haired 24 year old who’s probably still a little uncomfortable being onstage. And let me be clear: despite all this sarcasm, I love (Sandy) Alex G. There’s something undeniable about him, with his sing-song rhymes and gravelly voice. He lit up the room, and if I were still in high school, I probably would’ve been moshing, too.

Catch (Sandy) Alex G on tour this summer/fall.

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Mariel Fechik

Mariel Fechik is a musician, writer, and program coordinator for a Chicago nonprofit. She fronts the band Church Booty, sings backup for Chicago musician Emily Blue, and also recently started a duo project with Blue. Her poetry has appeared in various literary journals. She holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois, as well as an Illinois Professional Educators License.