Andy Shauf @ Summerhall, Edinburgh, 10 May
A night of storytelling and uncontained joy from three of Canada’s most exciting alternative artists headed by Andy Shauf – the kind of show that sticks with you for a long time
The best thing about ‘the return to live music’ – (I wonder how long we can still call it that?) – is seeing the pure joy and gratitude of the artists as they perform. The excited energy is palpable in Summerhall’s Dissection Room on this drizzly Tuesday night, at an event that feels more like a mini-festival than a show.
Saskatchewan-native singer-songwriter Andy Shauf is supported by fellow Canadians Helena Deland and Leith Ross, who hail from Montreal and Ontario respectively. The collective clout of the artists has drawn a dedicated crowd who, happily, give as much energy to the support acts as they do to Shauf.
First up is Leith Ross, who tells the audience that despite having a Scottish mother (and a very Scottish name) it’s their first time visiting Scotland. Ross’s sweetly melancholic voice and confessional lyrics bring to mind early Phoebe Bridgers, performed with so much heart and tenderness that they reduce themself to tears.
You get the feeling that half of the crowd was there mainly for this performance when they help an emotional Ross sing every word to their latest single, We’ll Never Have Sex. The set is concluded by a gorgeous cover of Eddi Reader’s Wild Mountainside, which Ross grew up listening to with their Scottish grandfather, after which Ross says sincerely that it’s been a night they’ll never, ever forget.
Helena Deland’s sparse, haunting music is a stark contrast to Ross’s warm and personal performance – but just as spellbinding. She stands alone on stage armed with a white Stratocaster and reimagines the often heavy and electronic songs from her outstanding 2020 debut LP Someone New.
Deland’s songs are intricate and layered; they shift between genre and style with an enchanting unpredictability, so require work to unpick. Witnessing them live, that intention is easier to grasp; they seem to unfold in front of you, Deland’s body language and expressions laying them bare. The performance of her newest single Swimmer is beautiful and unspeakably sad, as Deland recalls a poignant conversation with her mother and reflects, ‘If I could turn back time / I would and I’d be good’.
After much anticipation, Andy Shauf arrives on stage and launches energetically into Neon Skyline. The band of six (guitar, bass, drums, keys, trumpet, plus Shauf and his steel-string) ensures the music is as rich as it is on the record, satisfyingly precise and polished without losing its soul. Up next is Judy, the whimsical opener to Shauf’s newest record Wilds, which details a couple's weekly trips to get a lottery ticket set over a bouncing bass riff. The audience is completely rapt as Shauf continues to work his way through songs from Wilds, as well as 2016’s The Party and 2020’s The Neon Skyline.
Shauf is a remarkable storyteller, weaving meandering tales that draw you in even after you’ve heard them a hundred times. Whether it’s a shady night in a bar, a seemingly trivial conversation or a half-finished thought, Shauf’s music is charming and beguiling in equal measure, with a musical imagination that makes his narratives even more compelling.
Watching drummer Phil Melanson is a particular highlight tonight; he’s given space for an explosive drum solo that launches the band into the jazzy Living Room. Shauf is mostly silent in between songs, but politely asks the audience if they have any questions for him – and remarking that in Edinburgh, if you don’t like the weather, you can wait 15 minutes for it to change.
The evening is a delightful showcase of three of Canada’s most exciting alternative artists – the kind of show that sticks with you for a long time.