Alex Giannascoli, who performs under the moniker Alex G, exudes a humbleness that might come off as unexpected. The indie-rock musician has experienced notable success in the past couple of years, now hinging off Beach Music, his sixth album, and a recent feature on Frank Ocean’s anxiously awaited “visual album” Endless.
“Are you guys here ‘cause you were walking by?” the artist jokingly asked the audience last Thursday night at the ASUC SUPERB-hosted event on Upper Sproul while clad in baggy, ripped jeans and a baseball cap covering a tied ponytail.
But the crowd — unmistakably reminiscent of your hometown’s skater scene mingled with smirky art school floaters — had clearly bided their time in advance to see the 22-year-old artist play that evening. As he began to sing “Bug,” a wintry ballad from Beach Music describing a hapless kid the singer has taken under his wing, the audience launched into a muted enthusiasm superseding any indifference that existed before the show started. Willowy crowd members swayed in tandem with the melancholy vocals of “Kicker,” tilting their heads back and forth before succumbing to mirror Alex G’s own naturally occurring movements.
Alex G’s lyrics are deeply poignant, encompassing both the realms of what could have been and what will never be. Vacillating between weepy and placid, his voice changes to embody the personas of those he sings about — in “Brite Boy,” it creeps to a higher pitch in order to mimic the personality of a sweet girl desperately trying to gain the affection of a boy who won’t respond to her unsuccessful attempts to help him get his life on track. The sadness of “Forever” is both hopeful and patient, although it probably describes a love that is doomed in spite of its titular promise.
Critics have compared Giannascoli to Elliott Smith, the melancholic folk singer who wrote about dark topics such as depression and alcoholism, issues the musician Smith personally dealt with and were sublimated in his wistful lyrics. Alex G’s songs invoke a similarly sad tone when he sings of characters cursed in love, telling stories that verge on the tragic while still remaining playful — which is where he sets himself apart from Smith.
His lo-fi music finds its singularity in his innovative — often described as “DIY” — song-making process involving his homespun writing and recording method. He also draws an audience that embodies a similar tendency toward the underdone.
As he paused that night to greet the crowd with a casual “hey,” onlookers echoed back similar detached “heys,” demonstrating how he maintains a small degree of separation between himself and an audience privy to exhibiting indifference toward just about everything. His song lyrics are still accessible despite their cryptic morbidity. He equates emotions like love to bodily fluids and replaces words at the end of his lyrics with grating screeches. Similarly, sardonic is what characterizes his audience members, who — throughout the night — wryly yelled turn of phrases like “Nice hair” and “Nintendo 64” in between songs.
Toward the end of the concert, Giannascoli performed a cover of The Killers’ “Mr. Brightside,” which crowd members indulged in moshing to as if they were revisiting a pocket of time retrieved from 2005. Moshing even continued for slow songs. If it was an ironic performative act, it made no difference as crowd surfing ensued shortly thereafter.
Each member of the audience was comfortable inhabiting their own space that evening, doing their own separate thing. And if wallowing in sadness has become a trope, it was an act done in the company of friends who consciously welcome that trope — and Alex G’s music for that matter — because of its ability to create a collective mood that allows listeners to be themselves, whether at a concert or in the intimacy of their high-school bedroom.