Year-end lists are almost always a dubious endeavor – opinions will forever differ, tastes will conflict, and acts will be forgotten – but we still soldier on and fill out many a musical year-end list for the sake of doing so. While there may not be a definitive “best show” in Nashville list for 2016 (as who can definitively say one show exceeded all others at any given time), one such show that would very well be in the running for the top spot of such a perilous list would have to be the highly deferential Andy Shauf.
While his public persona would be one of extreme tranquility, which might suggest initial timidity, it almost certainly errs on the side of deference, as Shauf took a handful of moments to address his sold out Basement crowd with little more than a “you all are too kind,” or “you guys are fun,” in response to the crowd’s cacophony of borderline oleaginous cries this past Friday.
But enough of this list-centric lede hilarity, its time to get down to what made Shauf’s Nashville debut one of the most memorable of the calendar year. First off, the set was easily one of with considerable indie clout, as opener Chris Cohen brings his own share of admiring onlookers, but in the end, the evening went to Shauf and his band of Arts & Crafts label mates/players.
Shauf’s backing band is one of Candian indie legend, as Timber Timbre/Last Ex drummer Olivier Fairfield held down the rhythm section alongside Shauf’s art director Josh Daignault on bass, and long time indie string and moog master Colin Nealis handling both of those realms.
It was truly a pleasure hearing the songs off of Shauf’s taciturn and breathy tracks enhanced by more luminous synth sounds in lieu of the familiar woodwind and brass that can be found throughout the Regina, Saskatchewan singer’s discography. Throw in some of the tightest sounding groove work on the skins from Fairfield, and you have yourself a genuinely beguiling iteration of songs from The Party (one of the best of the year) and The Bearer of Bad News.
Opening the set with what can only be described as Shauf’s closest thing to a “banger” – “Alexander All Alone” – he and his band brought an ominous groove the song, setting the tone for an altogether excellent set that flirted with foreboding but always pulled back right at its baleful precipice. Truly, the band’s ability to bring the songs to the edge of tempestuous crescendo only to pull back instantaneously was something to marvel at, immersing the audience in the pensiveness of The Party.
As referenced earlier, the evening was full of over-adulation from the crowd, who seemed desperate to obtain the attention (and potential affection) of Shauf, who masterfully subverted the clamoring admirers with simple statements and allowed Fairfield to drop into the next song before anyone was the wiser. The dynamism of Shauf’s tracks were remarkable in the clever adaptation and sound manipulation by Nealis, swapping Wurlitzer for Moog and vice versa in lieu of the aforementioned orchestral pieces, all of which was further heightened by a muted color palette of lights that further extended the ominous, breathy sounds of Shauf.
Despite the seemingly constant shouts of “Thank you for coming,” and “The Ryman is waiting” on his behalf, Shauf was strictly focused on the music, with stand out moments coinciding with a somehow more menacingly melodic rendition of “You’re Out Wasting” and “Early to the Party,” but the standout track of the evening (in the writer’s opinion) most certainly had to be “Wendell Walker,” off of The Bearer of Bad News. Easily one of Shauf’s heaviest in sonic and thematic tone, the dark and brooding melody lines over the marching bass line of Daignault made for an eerie sing along for the evening. Nevertheless, with all this talk of ominous, brooding, and even menacing sounds, there was never a moment of love lost the entire evening, as the set made for the most winsome and mesmerizing of the year.