Published Mar 04, 2020Andy Shauf's homecoming was a little paradoxical. The last time he performed at the Exchange — fronting Foxwarren — he played alongside old friends from Regina. The time before that, Shauf played the Exchange to describe quiet, devastating scenes from a party — scenes, in his imaginative landscape, taking place in his old Regina house. This time, Shauf was performing his new record, The Neon Skyline, which departs from the Prairies to fictionalize a corner of his new home: a bar in Toronto. In this way, Shauf was inviting his hometown crowd to envision his new circumstances.
With his band, Shauf walked on stage in the dark, and without greeting began playing the title track. Bathed in red light almost beyond recognition, Shauf approached the mic at an angle and surveyed the crowd while he described walking to the Skyline. Once the song ended, the light cut to black. Shauf, uncharacteristically, didn't ask the crowd if they had any questions, and the band launched into "Where Are You Judy?" slightly altered by some wobbling, almost-psych riffs, and crisp, muted drums.
When "Clove Cigarettes" began, light and dreamy, Shauf looked around, as though testing the audience's investment in the story — their ability to visualize the memory he was describing.
Although performing an album live in its entirety can be stale, Shauf's set was delicate enough to convey his stories earnestly, yet not too earnest as to become pensive or self-serious. As the drummer set the beat for "Things I Do," Shauf inspected his playing, then cracked, smiling in amusement at his goofy, liquid movements; once Shauf started singing, though, he became his character: his eyes closed and his voice full of desperate self-rebuke.
His band, too, helped facilitate an engrossing set, in part by letting the stories shine. The drumming was relaxed, but tight. Riffs sounded shiny and distorted, but not ostentatious. Even the dotting keys, which occasionally departed from the studio versions, naturally and quietly highlighted the melody. In the context, Shauf's voice — at once crystalline and vaporous — entranced.
After performing the album, the band played a few songs from The Party; the attitude seemed more relaxed, the songs a little more tongue-in-cheek, and the mood even lighter. As a finale, they played a bombastic, fuzzy rendition of "The Magician," the applause for which didn't end until Shauf came back on stage, this time alone. "The depressing one? Or the kinda depressing one?" he asked. The former, the crowd said, so he embodied a shameful narrator singing about his disastrous winter affair over a quiet riff. After he had strummed down the song, Shauf said, perhaps in irony, "Thanks for coming, have a great night," leaving the audience to cope with the sweet catastrophe of his invented worlds.