Every so often a musician appears out of the woodwork and shatters our jaded notion that real music is dead. Andy Shauf is the most recent example of this phenomenon.
On Saturday night, he was calm figure singing on stage, but he undeniably held the venue enthralled. This was Shauf’s second night in a row performing in front of a hypnotized and sold out room. This event took place at the impossibly well suited Fox Cabaret, the former porn theatre and now music hub smack dab in the core of Main St, Vancouver.I have seen Shauf perform twice this past summer,at sweaty music festivals in the middle of the day when poetic nuances get lost in the clumsy frenzy of it all. The Fox provided the intimacy and romance his music deserves. The red velvet plush walls, intuitive acoustics and heritage balcony was the perfect setting for this volcano of sound. While outside, the tail end of Super Typhoon Songda soaked the city, we were warm and safe and small under the vast, imposing prairie sky. Andy Shauf’s music is unequivocally Saskatchewan, it’s woven into every note and he took us back home with him.
His style is indie pop that wears a folk parka sometimes. Songwriting that isolates small, everyday moments and coaxes them out into fields so vast and open you can see the horizon bend. Contrasted between the land and the sky, the only thing moving for an endless distance, you have no choice but to focus on those small moments made subtly enormous.
It’s his instrumentation and arrangement however, that rounds out the feeling of isolation.This is made particularly powerful with his band that involves Canada’s cream of the crop. The complex instrumentation provides a balance to the haunted lyrics that still feels ultimately hopeful and light. Simple guitar melodies, lush strings to transition between verses, breaks, and choruses; all the while keeping the tempo inviting, and not overly serious. Yes, you’re the only voice inside your head forever, and you will never truly know what another human being is actually feeling. But hey, we’re all in the same boat, so it’s not that big a deal. The prairies breed humble, hopeful folk.
His music is certainly getting the attention he deserves which restores hope in both humans and the music industry. Shauf, signed by Arts and Crafts in 2015, dropped his first single Jenny Come Home and broke through to chart on CBC Radio 2 and 3. He was short listed for the 2016 SOCAN songwriting prize, and his most recent effort ‘The Party’ was nominated for a Polaris Prize. He opened for the Lumineers across Europe earlier this year; Regina represent.The Party is Shauf’s third record and even stronger than his previous marvels Darker Days (2009) and the Bearer of Bad News (2012).He has grown into his music,he encompasses the unapologetic tone his sonic syrup deserves.He has even let his hair grow wild which is a good look for the young songbird who doesn’t appear to be a day over 25 yet sings with a wisdom that sounds older than time.He played tunes sporadicly from his discography yet it all blended together seamlessly, creating a warm blanket of beautiful melancholy.
A notable part of the evening was even after playing two nights in a row in the same place he provided a heartfelt encore which I something I seldom ache for, but there I was…aching. Shauf stepped back onto the stage illuminated by warm red light. His band followed him. He sat down, adjusted the mic stand, picked up his guitar, and laughed. “That was some fantastic syncopated clapping” he stated with the same tone I hear his music in.
I’m grateful to Andy Shauf, for bringing his experience growing up with glacial winters, boundless plains, in the solitude of this human existence and expressing that generously in a well-crafted performance.Solitude is something we all try to shutter ourselves away from. Crippled by the fear of imagined slights, we’re a timid species doing our best to not to offend each other. We just want to belong, and the terror of being excluded is our own horror movie monster; forever in the shadows, always in pursuit. It takes a brave man to make a muse from his monster. Crafting soft, accessible realms to explore our inherited neuroses. Surviving a youth chilled by Regina winters and finding inspiration from it. To create music that is authentically and unabashedly gentle. From the sung stories to honest observations about how we silly humans fumble about our lives. It’s liberating to acknowledge our meekness, and therein find the freedom to just be. To just exist in a venue in Vancouver, while a storm rampages outside, with a beer in your hand, listening to good music born from Canada’s heartland.