Alex G faced away from the audience, hunched over his guitar while the skull on the back of his sweater stared out eerily. Playing “After Ur Gone,” he rocked back and forth as the hundreds of people behind him stood hypnotized.
Alexander Giannascoli, better known by his stage name Alex G, stopped in San Francisco to play at The Fillmore on Oct. 19 while touring for his new album God Save The Animals. His enigmatic persona is only amplified by his stage presence, where he is uninhibited and feverish. Playing through gritted teeth and avoiding eye contact, with passion and sweat dripping off his brow, he still managed to connect with the audience while rarely addressing them directly.
The line outside The Fillmore wrapped around the building and across multiple blocks as groups of eager fans waited patiently in the blustery night air. Australian singer-songwriter Hatchie took the stage shortly after 8 p.m., playing a quick opening set of dreamy shoegaze songs before Giannascholi appeared.
He opened with “S.D.O.S,” the short and cryptic fourth track from his latest album, making for a fitting beginning to the cacophonous show. The lyrics are repetitive and absurdly simple — “Naked in my innocence / Tangled in my innocence,” but it laid a skeleton foundation for the rest of his Auto-tuned soundscape to erupt. Alex G’s musical style often draws comparisons to Elliott Smith, but on stage at The Fillmore, his vocals were almost reminiscent of Billie Joe Armstrong, if he had the puzzling charm of Will Toledo.
On “Blessing,” Giannascoli dragged himself around on stage with a hand on his back, adding perspective to the nearly whispered lyrics “As I walk through the mud/ If I live like the fishes/ I will rise from the flood.” His ever-mysterious lyrics were rendered even more incomprehensible by the loud and momentous chord progressions, but drawing focus to the instrumentals in his songs was an ultimately powerful choice.
Guitarist Samuel Acchione, Alex G’s longtime musical collaborator and doppelganger, stole the spotlight for a portion of the show, bouncing off of Giannascoli’s chaotic energy and improvising wild riffs. At times, the two faced each other and swayed back and forth while playing, mirroring each other’s movements like twin ghosts.
Notably missing from Giannascoli’s set were some of his biggest hits, including “Mary” and “Sarah” of viral TikTok fame. This choice could signal an effort to distance himself from 2012’s Trick and 2010’s Race — arguably two of his most popular and critically acclaimed albums. But God Save the Animals, while more hopeful than much of his older work, is just as complex. To call the show a religious experience would be too simplistic, but given the Catholic imagery combined with dramatic synth chords, it was not unlike a liturgy.
At Alex G’s Feb. 24 show at San Francisco’s August Hall, a crowd of edgy high schoolers shouted and moshed with little regard for concert etiquette. However, at his Oct. 19 performance, the greasy 20-something men with mustaches swayed intensely but respectfully, as if in a trance. They buzzed with energy when he began the encore, a stripped-down version of cult favorite “Bobby” where his band played the iconic melody sans heavy violin.
But despite the aura of mystery that Alex G cultivates among his fans, Giannascoli has a reputation for surprising crowds with a goofy cover at the end. In February, it was Rascal Flatts’ “Life is a Highway.” This time, he paid tribute to San Francisco band Third Eye Blind with “Semi-Charmed Life,” laughing as he stumbled over the lyrics.
Echoes of “doo doo doo, doo doo-doo doo …” reverberated through The Fillmore even after he left the stage. After ending the musical odyssey through his discography, it was a welcome moment of catharsis.