(Sandy) Alex G is famous for being a guitarist. In 2019, it is difficult to find yourself saying that often, and even more so to find guitarists with similar reach as hip-hop artists have within the last decade. Guitarists who collaborate and are lauded by the most critically acclaimed hip hop artists? Even fewer. Alex G came from a world of making lo-fi alternative rock in his bedroom to working hand in hand with Frank Ocean in a span of half a decade, and since his collaborations with Ocean, his status, reach and acclaim have skyrocketed, but one thing has stayed steadfast: his sound.
No matter how big Alex gets, his sound remains true to what he does best. Bizarre, atypical compositions with trails of psych-folk and lo-fi alternative rock à la Built to Spill or mid-nineties Pavement, atop nostalgic tinges of melancholic bedroom pop. Presented with a slacker-rocker look and iconic indie sex appeal, you get a powerhouse able to sell out the Fonda in Hollywood on a Sunday night. Oh yeah, and he’s a guitarist. In 2019. With support from singer-songwriter Sarah Beth Tomberlin, they brought their sold-out tour to Los Angeles, where a dedicated crowd of hometown fans awaited hearing tracks from Alex’s newest full-length album, House of Sugar.
Tomberlin is a quiet act, emotional and heavy in her themes and tone. She commands the stage, balancing confidence, timid humility, and awkward relatability in a way that makes her intriguing to watch, and allows one to hone in on the lyrics she is reciting. She’s a poet, and the songs are nothing too complex. The music takes the backseat, her lyricism is the driver, and her subtle, passionate delivery is a passenger. She introduced her set as a collection of “sad bangers.” Sad they were, often dealing with death, self-loathing, loss of love, love’s harm amongst and admittedly other dark points. That said, she is gentle and genuine, which makes the content feel heartfelt and meditative, rather than actively depressing self-wallowing. Her self-titled debut surely feels similar, but seeing her deliver of the compositions in person gives the music a sense of humanity, which beautifully stands out.
For most of the set, she was accompanied by (Sandy) Alex G’s lead guitarist Sam Acchione, with minimalist, subtle keyboard/guitar parts to sweeten the already stripped-back, soft songs. She played through a good part of her self-titled album from last year, as well as a couple of new, unreleased tracks. Introducing the untitled track from her debut, she mentioned that this particular song was so sad it didn't have a name, which was retorted by warm laughter from the crowd, who happily gave her the room.
She closed her set with a heartfelt message, showing a spark that seemed to be restrained during her performance, naturally due to her songs demanding poise and earnestness, telling the crowd to hold the people close to us accountable when they are acting out.
“Lawyers and police don’t care about you, it’s us who have to better each other and our community.”
She gave her thanks to us and her team and calmly walked off, and it was then that her true power showed, as the room palpably changed the moment her set was over. Not in a better way, but in a way that served as evidence of how successfully she took ownership of the room with nothing but her words and an acoustic guitar.
Alex then came out to play, sporting an oversized long sleeve saying various things, amongst “life doesn’t have to be perfect or beautiful.” He walked out to playback from “Project 2,” to a jam-packed Fonda Theater. The band, consisting of Acchione, bassist John Wesley Heywood and drummer Tom Kelly, amps up the strengths of being a traditional four-piece rock n roll band; they strip down the production-heavy songs, rely on samples for the necessary tracks, but stick to delivering their songs like a garage band: lead guitar, rhythm guitar, bass and drums. Nothing else needed. Giannascoli stripped back his vocals as well, opting out of the commonly used filters he applies to his lead vocals on his studio albums and delivering a growly, organic performance that gave the set a significant breath of life. Even the mellower tracks of the set seemed to be amped up, whereas louder tracks such as “Sugar House” or “Icehead” saw Alex screaming as loud as he could.
Alex had a casual, cool poise throughout the gig, seeming as comfortable as he would be in his own living room, leading his band through an array of music from his critically acclaimed catalog. Focusing more on his newest LP, House of Sugar, the set managed to fit songs from every record he has released.
A Pennsylvania native, Alex ruminated on playing in Los Angeles after several weeks on tour, mentioning how since moving to Southern California, coming back to play LA feels like home, a sentiment shared by Tomberlin earlier in the night, when she described this gig being her first Angelino show since moving here. The crowd couldn’t have been more excited to be at the Fonda, screaming, moshing, singing en masse and bouncing collectively through the set, responding wildly to deep cuts such as “Kute” and “Mis," and singing along to every word of set-opener “Gretel” and classic tracks such as “Bug” or “Thorns."
The main set came abruptly to an end after a rapid rendition of “Sugar House,” which Alex began screaming “this is the worst show I’ve ever played, in all of my years of playing shows!” After his faux tantrum the night being the absolute worst, the band went off-stage, and “Heaven” by Los Lonely Boys blared on the speakers. A confused, but lively crowd cheered and sang along, unsure if the night was truly over. Finally, Alex came back to play what would become the staple of the night; an eight-song encore.
“I’m kidding. Los Angeles you are not the worst show I’ve ever played!” The band then ripped through “Fell," from House of Sugar, before asking the crowd for suggestions.
“This is the time of the night when we run out of ideas and ask for your help, so if you have suggestions or requests, just yell them out and maybe we can play them!”
A wall of noise ensured made up entirely of song titles being verbally hurled onstage. After a moment, the band played through rarity “Fay," “Harvey” and “Icehead” from his label debut DSU, as well as “Animals" and “Sarah” from TRICK.
Between each song, the crowd would give suggestions for thirty seconds, before Alex would turn to his band give a motion and they would break into song. Then, Tomberlin came and joined the band on-stage, performing “Brite Boy” and “Change” to close out the night, stretching the set beyond the length of any set previous of the tour, treating his new hometown with a beautiful night of surprises, delivered with stoic passion to room full of people who wanted exactly what (Sandy) Alex G gave them.
Photos by Adrian Vega Albela Osorio
Adrian Vega Albela Osorio is a 23-year-old multimedia artist from Mexico based in Los Angeles. His work focuses on documenting the contemporary underground psychedelic music scene in Los Angeles. Follow Adrian on Instagram @stripedbeatle.