Alex G plays surreal, aberrant set at August Hall

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An Alex G concert is an unusual setting for a mosh pit. Yet, that’s precisely what broke out among the throng of sweaty arts school types Feb. 24, before the end of the first song. 

When Alexander Giannascoli (performing under the moniker Alex G) took the stage, he seemed visibly drunk, stumbling around during the dizzying, carnivalesque opening bars of “Southern Sky” — another surprise that felt more appropriate with every minute immersed in the frenetic hedonism that pooled over the floor of August Hall.

The mythos surrounding Alex G is simultaneously deconstructed and bolstered by his live performance. Giannascoli’s music often finds itself caught in the crosshairs between quotidian and uncanny, or melodic and shrill. His live performance style is equally inclined toward polarities, where on a blustery San Francisco evening, normalcy devolved into psychosis, and composure into chaos.

Giannascoli’s most recent record, House of Sugar, debuted fall 2019. The record swirls with one opaque vignette after another, mired in a vaguely Lynchian flavor of unnerving Americana. Like Lynch, impenetrability is of little concern to Giannascoli, who — in an anomalous interview with GQ — distanced himself from forced narratives or static interpretations: “There is no story of the record,” he said.

Giannascoli opened the evening with a triptych of arcane fan favorites: “Southern Sky,” “Hope” and “Bobby.” The last of which, from his 2017 record Rocket, is rife with folksy, distilled yearning. It’s Giannascoli at his best, a sentiment undeniably felt among the crowd, which took the lively muffled arpeggiated piano intro as a firm command to begin thrashing about. 

Though initially surprising, the shock of the rowdy vibes was tempered by the time that the sixth or seventh crowd-surfing skater boy got hoisted over the barricade for a cursory slap on the wrist by security. Among the tumult, Giannascoli remained nonplussed, perhaps owing to his skill and dedication as a performer. 

Giannascoli is also no stranger to limerence — music meme pages on Instagram are swift to point out how many of his songs feature titles with girls’ names. Still, his encore performance of “Mary” — arguably the most objectionable track within the “girl’s name” canon — proved an unlikely fan favorite. 

Earlier in the evening, Giannascoli played “Near,” another simplistically titled, twisted love song festooned with the usual Alex G eccentricities. “All I want is to be near/ You, you, you, you” Giannascoli crooned through gritted teeth. 

Save for the moshers and crowd surfers, Giannascoli’s set remained rather by the book. His oddball status only took root when he staggered over to the keyboard and sat hunched over outstretched, taloned hands. At his perch, he then played an ambient, reverb-heavy number. His vocals groaned, discordant to the point of strange unrecognizability.

Still situated at the keyboard, Giannascoli played “Crab,” a lively, high-octane jaunt through a deceptively cavernous exhumation of a relationship. Alongside “Bobby,” the song marked one of the night’s highest points, the crowd bobbing along to the carbonated descending keyboard.

In spite of his reputation as a purveyor of songwriting tinged with esotericism, Giannascoli perennially seems, in many ways, like a fourth-grade boy, post-lice haircut and all. His songs carry a youthful air of spritely, treacly whimsy. 

“Gretel,” the opener for both House of Sugar and the concert, is derived from the Hansel and Gretel fairytale, as well as a Philadelphia casino of the same name. Throughout his performance, he maintained an intermittent, checked-out rapport with his audience. “Life is so hard right now,” he said blithely, one of the exceptionally few moments of audience interaction that night.

In addition to his juvenile sensibilities, Giannascoli is also a man of unapologetically simplistic tastes. As he walked offstage after a raucous, overstimulating encore, the house lights flickered and Rascal Flatts’ “Life is a Highway” came on, proffering a weird — but much needed — moment of catharsis following a night of antics and sonic unearthliness.

Contact Emma Murphree at [email protected].