Until this show, I liked Andy Shauf, but I never really got Andy Shauf.
For those who don't know the name, he's a singer-songwriter from here in Regina. The first time we saw him was in 2013, when he opened for Mo Kenney at a half-full Artful Dodger. By that point, he was already well known around these parts. We later saw him at the 2015 Regina Folk Festival and then again opening for Whitehorse in 2016. In all cases, I thought he was good and very likable and I wanted him to do well, but there was always something that didn't quite work for me - he's real quiet, and I sometimes found him hard to hear and that everything kinda sounded the same. He's one of many people where I thought I could really get into him if only I spent some time with his albums, but we all know I'll talk about that but likely never do it.
I did think he was best suited to small, intimate venues. This time, he was headlining at the Exchange, which seemed to be the ideal place. That it was a sold-out hometown show could only help.
I suspect this will be the last time we can see Shauf at a place this small. Even now, I'm guessing he only played the Exchange because he used to work there. They said he was the only person ever to serve as caretaker and also headline a show there. This was the second last stop on his tour; the only remaining date was in Toronto's Massey Hall. When I looked, you could only buy single seats for that one.
Watching his rise has really been something. When Hawksley Workman discovered Shauf and praised him, I wasn't that surprised. But to see Reggie Watts do the same thing, it really illustrated how far Shauf was going.
Several days before they show, they announced that Steph Cameron would be opening. This was a delightful surprise. We saw her at the very same 2015 Regina Folk Festival. As opposed to all the other Regina Folk Festivals that year. I really liked her short set and later bought her album, Sad-Eyed Lonesome Lady. She was back in Regina only a few weeks ago, opening for Little Miss Higgins, but we were already booked that night, so this was a treat.
Doors opened at 8:00, which really isn't that late, but it feels like it is if you're used to the early-starting concerts the Folk Festival puts on. We got in at around 8:30 and had lots of time to stand around and critique the fashion choices of today's youth. Tye Dillinger's haircut was a standout, as was a jacket that read SAME SHIT, DIFFERENT DAY in large letters on the back. One girl was there in short shorts; I question her wisdom but admire her commitment when it's -20 with the windchill.
Someone from the Board of Directors for the Exchange welcomed us to the show, since this was one of a series of concerts marking their 30th anniversary. She seemed nervous. Didn't need to be. She did fine!
Cameron started around 9:00 and played for about a half-hour, mostly material from her brand new album, Daybreak Over Jackson Street, about her time living in one of Vancouver's worst neighbourhoods. I didn't even know she had a new album, so that was another nice surprise. Or maybe a continuation of the first one. She did a fine job despite a crowd that left something to be desired. Even the folks at the very front were talking and looking at their phones. By now, I should just have a boilerplate paragraph that covers this. You know the deal. If you're going to do that, why don't you just leave? Or not show up in the first place? There are lots of places that won't charge you $25/person cover to stand around and be a dick. But standing dicks notwithstanding, she was real good. Last time I saw her, my verdict was "would see again" and that hasn't changed. Even if she didn't play the one song Mika knew.
Speaking of standing dicks, we had about 45 minutes of standing around time before Shauf and band took the stage. I won't lie to you; I was ready to leave well before this point. The standing, the inattentive crowd, the heat of a packed, sold-out venue, and the fact that I'd never been super into Shauf before were all combining to kill my enthusiasm for the evening, such as it was.
Armed with a full band - including TWO clarinetists, as one does - Shauf returned to his hometown if not quite a conquering hero, at least well on his way. And this was where it all came together for me. Great sound in the venue combined with a crowd that was surprisingly quiet and respectful to create the perfect atmosphere to listen to Shauf's lyrics. Hometown Hero and Wendell Walker became new favourites for me, but I enjoyed all of it.
Shauf's stage presence is quite reserved. He's not someone who will ever put on shows described as electrifying - they're for listening, not for dancing. Throughout this review, I kept looking for the right place to put the term "low-key" since it kind of applies everywhere. But he does display a subtle sense of humour when talking to the crowd which breaks things up a little. Every time I've seen him, he's asked the audience if they have any questions. This time, it was something about Star Trek. I liked it better last time when someone yelled "what do you have against horses?"
But that was the only part of the show that wasn't quite as good as before. It's telling that I liked the show at all, given the mood I was in before it began, but this was fantastic. It took me a while - I'm late to the party, perhaps - but I'm finally on the Andy Shauf bandwagon. Better get on now, before he takes over the world so quietly that nobody even notices.
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