Andy Shauf, The Sad Magician

by Stephan Boissonneault

With the nature of my job, I’ve been to many live shows as of late, and all of that excitement and potent energy can definitely take its toll, mentally and physically. So it’s safe to say that I really appreciated the rather laid-back, quaint, and tranquil set from Saskatchewan’s gifted, sometimes almost Lynchian, baroque-pop storyteller, Andy Shauf, this past week at L’Olympia. 

Starting the night off was opener, Marina Allen, a newer singer-songwriter from Los Angeles. Her sound on her newest album, Centrifics, is certainly folk (in the vein of someone like Joni Mitchell) with a tinge of Americana and alt-country, but live, she played a solo stripped-back acoustic set. Her voice is gorgeous, with a falsetto that could make angels weep, and a highlight was when she used that resonating falsetto with the word “motherfucker.” While I was waiting for more of a band performance, as was most of the crowd I’d wager, she set the tone of the evening beautifully. Also, hiring a full band for your first Canadian tour cannot be cheap, so I can’t fault her for that. 

I was surprised that only the floor of L’Olympia was open with the above mezzanine completely blocked off. Perhaps there was another show (or several) or perhaps Andy Shauf is no longer as big in Eastern Canada as I expected. Regardless, this made the evening more intimate—perfect for Shauf’s music. The set up was seated as well, another reprieve from the usual standing-for-dear-life concerts I have been attending.

Shauf appeared on stage, behind a microphone covered in vegetation. Actually, most of the mics had plant life attached to them. He jumped into “Wasted On You,” the opener to his recent album, Norm. It sounded exactly like it does on record, almost to a tee. The first five or six songs were all from Norm—what could be considered one of his darker down-tempo records, perhaps following a stalker named Norm? The character of Norm appears throughout the record, and his desire for love may or may not be coming from an unhinged mind. 

Shauf only leaves breadcrumbs in his simplistic day-to-day life narratives, like opening a book to his choose your own adventure novel. He also loves to end his songs halfway through the story with a lyrical phrase like “Jeremy walks over and, to my surprise, Sherry puts her arm around his side,” in his sad boy, the guy at the party, ode “Quite Like You,” from 2018’s The Party. It leaves you guessing with his music, and live it’s pretty fantastic. Maybe it’s because many of his songs come from a solemn state, from someone who is usually on the fringes of “normal society.” We’ve all felt like that at one time or another and Shauf always sings from the perspective of the sad clown, or let’s call him the sad magician.

The lighting for the show seemed to be reflective of Shauf’s general vibe and interaction with the crowd. You could never quite see his face due to the shadows being projected onto his figure, and whenever someone called at him from the crowd, he usually whispered, “Thank you.” The lighting also went with the vegetation theme, when, at times, Andy seemed like he was singing and playing his acoustic guitar obscured, inside a hedge of leaves.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Shauf has played whole sets without even acknowledging the crowd in an almost Nick Drake style. He seems like a very reserved, keeps-to-himself guy who, even a decade into his successful indie career, is still reconciling with his fame. 

His band didn’t miss a beat, and the bass clarinet, bass guitar, jazzy drums, and sultry keyboards added to the calming, but grooving atmosphere. There was also a fantastic, low-key drum solo that the crowd was not expecting. 

Shauf of course finished with “The Magician,” during his one-song encore and left the theatre feeling warm and sated. I’d recommend anyone interested in laid-back, jazzy, baroque pop to check out Andy’s next appearance in Montreal.

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