All Andy Shauf wanted to know was if there were any Harvard students in the room. His fans, however, were not into the idea. His question this past Saturday (May 20) at The Sinclair in Cambridge was met with a round of playful boos and various other utterances of disapproval.
“I was just wondering, just wondering!” he said back with a tone of faux defensiveness. He met the encounter with decent morale, especially since almost all of his band’s gear was stolen earlier this month.
It’s been exactly one year since Shauf released his latest album The Party, a melodic bash that the Canadian singer/songwriter has been able to milk successfully for a full year (which truly is amazing, considering that no one person has ever hosted a banger of a party in Saskatchewan). The album served as a major stepping stone for Shauf, cementing his sound in a dystopian and often dismal musical wonderland.
He dives into the party theme in particular in “Early to the Party,” a song that captures the nail-biting experience of being awkwardly punctual at a social gathering you didn’t want to go to the in the first place; it’s like an acoustic cousin of Alessia Cara’s “Here.”
“You’re the first one there/Overdressed and underprepared/Standing in the kitchen/Stressing out the host,” Shauf sings to set the uncomfortable scene, but manages to do so with a sense of acoustic coziness. His dedication to mellow reaches insofar that he takes not one, but two clarinetists onstage to give his sound a final touch of dim melancholy. His shows remain the only places where you can hear an audience member shout “more clarinet!”
The whole experience constantly feeds into itself, proclaiming dry humor like on “Hometown Hero”: “He lights a cigarette and says ‘man, these things will kill me someday’/Raises a glass and says ‘here’s to hoping.’” Later in the set, Shauf makes a failing relationship and forbidden tryst sound borderline endearing on the flouncy track “Jenny Come Home.” Still, Shauf’s specialty remains his single “The Magician,” a tune that’s few in words but whip-smart in harmonies.
In a musical era that has a bland oversaturation of two genres — unce unce EDM and insincere, melodramatic acoustic indie — musicians with veritable flair get tossed into a heaping reject pile of fame-hungry posers if their tunes touch the fringe of either style.
For artists like Shauf, therein lies the issue of standing out amongst a sea of hirsute white dudes with cheap acoustic guitars — who, most of the time, are tirelessly boring. Despite his tendencies towards scat — “doo doo doo” makes a few appearances — Shauf embodies the quiet authenticity of the uber-talented guy-next-door singer/songwriter. What takes him even further, however, is his self-awareness of all the painful tropes of his phony counterparts (which is probably for the best, considering a lack thereof would make certain songs a touch painful).
“Here’s a song about beginning again. It’s called ‘Begin Again,’” he says with a touch of a grin spreading across his face. And on “Worst in You,” Shauf asks tenderly: “I always find the worst in you/Do you always find the worst in me?”
In Boston, as long as there’s no mention of a certain ivy league school, the answer is a reassuring “no.”
Follow Victoria Wasylak on Twitter @VickiWasylak.