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Everyman and everyone at once: (Sandy) Alex G plays Motorco

(Sandy) Alex G played in Durham at Motorco Music Hall Oct. 18.
(Sandy) Alex G played in Durham at Motorco Music Hall Oct. 18.

As Motorco begins to brim Oct. 18, Alex G’s opener, ARTHUR, announces: “To all you who just came in, this experimental noise shit is what you get! We already played all our pop songs.” 

It is about to be a stunningly noisy night.

“Walk Away,” the first song on Alex G’s latest album, sounds from the darkness as if theater curtains have just opened. Two long strands hang over Alex’s big brown eyes as he concentrates his fingers on the guitar strings. The song is simpler and more direct in person, and the warmth of Alex’s voice carries into “Gretel.” 

These pieces from “House of Sugar” are melodically altered and the band delivers them so calmly and masterfully, that you might think they were covering someone else’s songs. For “Southern Sky,” Alex invites Sara Tomberlin, his other opening artist, back on stage to accompany him. Instead of attempting to conjure up “House of Sugar” exactly as it was recorded, Alex walks us through one of its rooms. Something has been rearranged, but Alex’s voice fills up the space so that we see its texture up close.

The band then begins an excursion back through Alex’s long history of songs. They play “Kute” with an expert, lopsided bounce, and the crowd jumps and screams with Alex. He is known to take song suggestions from the audience, so someone demands “Brick” and I am reminded that Alex G had traversed some dark, loud soundscapes before arriving at the strange softness of “House of Sugar.” 

One moment, there is a girl with glitter on her face and body, waving frantically to Alex, “OMG I love you, puppy” and when I look back, she has turned into a towering man with long hair completely hiding his face, thrashing his whole body. People throw themselves against each other as the disembodied lyric, “I know that you’re lyyying,” rises from everywhere at once, and we miscellaneous characters in the crowd are hurtling at the speed of Alex’s voice, meshing together in that kind of eerie harmony Alex has a knack for arranging.

Alex himself is rather unassuming. His attention to his music never wavers, and he, together with the bassist, guitarist and drummer, are confident enough in their mastery to take on anything the crowd suggestions. At one point, Alex takes the guitar off his shoulder, sits down behind the piano, and the band begins improvising. His hands are running across the piano and something beautiful is being born right in front of me when he suddenly looks up and says to the rest of the band, “Stop, stop, stop, stop. You know, these guys don’t appreciate us,” and they immediately follow him off stage. 

Shortly after, the band files back on stage, and the “I love you”s and clamor of the crowd slow. The audience is nearly singing over Alex for “Mary,” which is electric and desperate like Alex’s fangirls: “i feel good I wanna / Feel whatever you think I should.” And I felt touched too, by seeing him so close up, and by how honestly he poured out each song we thought he should.

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