Andy Shauf was in town last Friday to play Union Transfer with special guest Marina Allen. The Canadian singer-songwriter, known in the super-soft circles of the acoustic indie world for over a decade now, performed from his latest concept album Norm. Mirroring the lush themes on the record, Shauf decorated the stage with crawling vines, a soft purple hue, and dappled spotlights. There was even a wafting scent of lilacs and fresh-brewed tea permeating the music hall, if I wasn’t just imagining it.
In Norm, Shauf tells the story of his alter-ego, just a normie, too afraid to approach his crush, too boggled down by weed to keep his memories straight, and too ignorant to acknowledge he’s part of God’s plan. In the opening track, Shauf poses a despondent conversation between God and Jesus, wondering out loud if the creator’s love is wasted on characters like Norm. Despite his references to the heavens, there’s nothing holier-than-thou about Shauf’s writing. Rather, he suggests an existential problem in man’s selfishness, and releases the meaning behind our most petty fears.
At Union Transfer, the quiet peace on the record spread through the hushed crowd. The experience was church for some fans, who sang along with closed eyes and clutched fists. It was my first time at an Andy Shauf show, and I was surprised at just how soft the band could play and Shauf could sing while still holding the attention of the full crowd. The misty texture of the album’s recorded sound was still palpable live, brought to life notably through woodwind features from the flute and oboe. Shauf himself was positioned front and center, but was masked by effects lighting, and stepped back from his spotlight periodically.
Shauf and his band played the entirety of Norm alongside some standouts from two of his earlier albums The Party (2016) and The Neon Skyline (2020). For the encore, they performed a visible crowd-pleaser, “The Magician,” which similarly ponders life and death from the perspective of a darkly-shrouded, omniscient third party. Nevermind the heavy stuff though; all worries that night were released through Shauf’s songwriting.
Opener Marina Allen held down the stage with her acoustic guitar and confident, folk-minded songs. Her new album is called Centrifics and is available to stream now, as well as Norm. See below for a photo gallery and Shauf’s setlist.