Andy Shauf has been touring his Polaris Music Prize-shortlisted The Party for over a year now, and yet the songs are no worse for wear — in fact, it sounds as if they've even gained depth over the course of their journeys.
Playing with a five-piece band (including two clarinettists: Karen Ng and Dan Pencer) for an adoring crowd on the closing night of Sudbury's Northern Lights Festival, Shauf took us back to The Party, playing most of its songs plus album outtake "Jenny Come Home," which he introduced by saying, "Here's a song about a guy who's not very good."
Shauf's songs are perfect, slightly haunting little stories culled from the small awkward interactions between people in everyday life. They're small gestures that somehow manage to contain and express large feelings. It's all incredibly well written.
He delivered his lines in his peculiar way that was a little mumbly and almost impossible for the uninitiated to decipher, but to the fans up close last night (July 9), that didn't matter. Perhaps because his lyrics can come across as opaque, it's usually his melodies that get you first — every song contains a memorable melodic hook delivered with chamber folk flair reminiscent of Beirut. On "Twist Your Ankle," for example, it's the vocal "do do do do," line carried also by the organ and clarinets.
Shauf truly let the music do the talking, though at one point he mustered, "Thanks for having us at your fest. It's been great," by way of "banter." It was very low key and possibly shy but it's okay that Shauf lets his music cast its magic and, as much as possible for the guy in centre stage, disappears. He closed with "The Magician," which anyone who creates anything can relate to: "I'm just a shaking hand without a plan," it concludes.
Shauf made a brilliant album with The Party — can he do it again? I think he can.