“Do you find it gets a little easier/each time you make it disappear?” Andy Shauf asks in “The Magician,” from his most recent LP, The Party.
If there’s a trick to Shauf’s closed-confessional music, it would be difficult to tell. There were no strings attached to his performance at Washington, D.C.’s Rock and Rock Hotel Tuesday night.
A young crowd packed close to the stage right as the doors opened. Shortly after the night began with Australian singer/songwriter Julia Jacklin, the first of 18 dates the two artists share across the country over the coming weeks.
Jacklin played selections from her debut album, Don’t Let the Kids Win, released late last year. The sparse instrumentation was punctuated by a distinct country twang, but throughout the set her Patsy Cline-esque vocals consistently took center stage.
Her set’s highest highs seemed to come in songs where she fully allowed her voice–and her lonely, desperate lyrics–to take over, such as the midset standout “L.A. Dream.”
Jacklin deftly grounds a breakup narrative in mundane, heartbreaking detail with lyrics like “why did you go to the grocery store/on the day you planned to leave,” the only accompaniment to her heartbreak her guitar, quietly strummed in the background.
Jacklin interspersed solo and full band tracks throughout her set, closing alone with her title track “Don’t Let the Kids Win” as the growing crowd inched closer to the stage.
Andy Shauf took the stage to wild applause, smiling slightly, then he and his band flinched visibly as feedback from the venue’s sound system shot into his inner-ear monitors.
The band waited for a beat, then Shauf leaned into the microphone. “You can hear me now, but I can’t hear you,” he joked, and began “Drink My Rivers” from his second LP, Bearer of Bad News.
Shauf’s set leaned on his earlier album, The Bearer of Bad News, for much of the first half of the night. However quiet and attentive the room was during his songs, that did not stop many audience members from singing along to songs from Bearer of Bad News and The Party alike.
Shauf’s music has been compared to Elliott Smith, not only for the bleakness of its lyrical subject matter but for his breathy, light vocals and delicate acoustic guitar.
Yet it would be equally accurate to compare him to Brian Wilson or Sufjan Stevens, particularly with his classically-informed arrangements of percussion, clarinet and guitar.
The Party, his third and most recent LP released in 2016, seems to exist outside of time, employing some aspects of the early ‘70s carefully choreographed pop, but a distinctly 2010s sense of simultaneous claustrophobia and isolation.
Though the album’s premise centers on social anxiety and missed connection over the course of a small-town party, the rounded tones of clarinet, keys and acoustic guitar add a warmth and upbeat counterpoint that melodically separate him from his contemporaries. And equally so for Shauf’s live performance, especially with the band including dueling clarinets to mirror his studio work.
Closing the set with “The Magician,” Shauf allowed one last death-defying feat as he came back for an encore performance of “Wendell Walker.”
A bearer of bad news perhaps, but a welcome one nonetheless.
Check out photos from both sets below: