Sometimes to not compromise the beauty or potency of a moment means leaving it at its climax; or, at least, refraining from diluting it with undue reflection or abstraction. Andy Shauf, an Indie musician from Saskatchewan, evidently has an understanding of when to end his story so as to guard the fragility and poignancy of the moment he’s trying to capture through his music.
Shauf’s concert at Rialto Theatre in Montreal earlier this month was very much in keeping with his style. As a performer, he is free of the irritating tendency of some artists to over-explicate their art. Unassuming is the word that comes to mind as he stands in front of the audience in his baseball cap and sneakers. He begins the show without introduction, and only after two songs does he address the audience with a question: “Do you have any questions for me?” So, he answers what his favourite fruit (cantaloupe) and favourite colour (red) are, and moves into his most well-known song, “Quite Like You.” The crowd was appreciative.
As a performer, he is free of the irritating tendency of some artists to over-explicate their art.
The opening act for Shauf, Haley Heynderickx, was a perfect match. She also spent the time between songs tuning her guitar (for which she needlessly apologized) and she does not pretend to be more comfortable than she is in front of a packed theatre. The folk singer from Portland, Oregon has a different narrative style than Shauf and her songs can be more raw at times, but she too shares an appreciation for capturing the quirky and momentary.
Heynderickx opened with a convincing cover of Buffy Sainte-Marie’s song “Little Wheel Spin and Spin.” Having finished, she remarked that she would love to write a protest song like that, but instead she just writes about bugs. The first of her originals she performed was indeed called “The Bug Collector,” and centipedes, praying mantises, and millipedes do make an appearance. Yet the song is a tender glimpse of what it may be like to love someone who deals with anxieties. When she says that the song is about bugs, even in an offhand way, she reveals a lot about the quality of her music. There is nothing trivial about insects when she makes them part of her story about human experience.
Many of his songs share rather abrupt endings, leaving the awkwardness or nuance of the interactions they capture fresh in the listener’s ear.
Shauf followed suit when he introduced his song “Early to the Party” by saying: “Here’s a song about punctuality.” The song begins “Early to the party/ you’re the first one there/ overdressed and underprepared,” and goes on to capture the nervousness and angst felt by an unwanted guest. Shauf’s music often captures the nitty-gritty manoeuvrings of conversations between friends and acquaintances. Many of his songs share rather abrupt endings, leaving the awkwardness or nuance of the interactions they capture fresh in the listener’s ear. Andy Shauf’s reluctance to interfere with the speaker of his narratives makes for very convincing storytelling. And yet, during another break between songs, he asks the audience a second time, head bent as he tunes, “Any more questions? I don’t really have any stories to tell.”
The audience was willing recipients of Shauf’s and Haley’s fragmentary moments set to music and the feeling of relishing each new moment was palpable. Shauf ended the concert with two new songs which he said may or may not make it onto his next album. If they are any indication of what is to come, Shauf fans have much to look forward to. After thanking the audience for coming out, he gave us the peace sign, and retired from the stage with his band members. For the encore he came back out and asked us: “Can I play another new song?” We were most obliging.
It feels a little silly to write all this after what I’ve been saying about moments and not staining them with unnecessary reflection. Perhaps I should have enjoyed the concert and left it at that, instead of yielding to the temptation to share my thoughts. Maybe I should have simply experienced the moment. But if writing this article means that more people will discover Shauf and Heynderickx and their music, than I cannot say I’m sorry.