Hayden / Howie Beck The Black Sheep Inn, Wakefield QC November 1

You know a new Hayden album is on the way when the rough-voiced artist emerges from his cocoon to charm audiences with his stripped-down songs and natural stage charisma. Though this was one of his first shows in over three years — and it showed — he’s lost none of the endearing nature that drew us all in when we were teenagers. Yet, before the shaggy-haired troubadour took to the stage, his friend and sometime producer Howie Beck performed an equally stunning set of songs. With a crystal-clear voice and expert manipulation of his guitar through loops, the absolute silence of the audience was testament enough to the magic he weaved. Note that Beck also has a new album coming out soon. But, to the roar of the extremely sold-out crowd, this was Hayden’s show. The night started out appropriately as it took mere seconds for Hayden to flub his notes to "Dynamite Walls.” Though, as would happen many times, with a flip line and a smile, all was forgiven. Indeed, the positive atmosphere that you always get at the Black Sheep Inn — where there’s a sign above the door that reads "Be Nice or Leave” — was perfect for Hayden’s tentative step back into the spotlight. The new songs were, as expected, quiet and haunting, but there seems to be a greater focus on the piano this time around. He didn’t disappoint in delivering the classics either, trotting out "Bad As They Seem” and "Between Us to Hold” to much approval. There is an intimacy that perfectly emanates from Hayden with every anecdote, missed note and warbling vocal and, indeed, it was simply a magical night and a great way to say "welcome back.”