Every once in a while, I forget just how special it is to live in Nashville. Other cities may have their particular perks, but the ability for me to go out and hear a variety of raw, moving live music on just about any night makes me proud to hail from such a place. So that’s just what I did on this particular Tuesday, when I saw Toronto-based indie songwriter Andy Shauf take the stage at Exit/In.
Before arriving to the show, I checked the event page and received notice that the show was sold out. I was looking forward to a full crowd to take in the evening with.
I had heard Shauf’s music many times before, but did not necessarily know what to expect with his live show.
As I walked into the venue, I was instantly taken aback by the number of people. But what was even more surprising, was the feeling in the room. There was a calm, patient anticipation that circulated among the music lovers in the room that night. Everyone there seemed to be laser-focused on the music to come.
As singer-songwriter Molly Sarlé took the stage solo, armed only with her Olympic-white Fender Stratocaster, she began to spin a series of quiet, passionate, and intimate songs with a lyrical and vocal style in a similar vein to that of Adrianne Lenker and her work with Big Thief. Sarlé took that spirit and feeling in the room and controlled it, directing and orchestrating it masterfully with her ethereal and fragile voice that brings to mind images of a candle wick burning down to its last quarter-inch. Muted guitar chords provided a flowery, grassy patch of Earth for her vocals to gracefully soar above.
Before launching into the next song, Sarlé provides some context: “This next song is about everyone’s favorite drug…love.” I noticed numerous couples in the crowd pulling each other closer in the spirit of the Valentine’s Day to come. To close her set, Sarlé performed an acapella number that held the audience in rapt attention the whole time. Altogether, Sarlé delivered one of the better opening performances I’ve seen in a while.
After the first set ended, I turned around to reassess the state of the crowd, only to find that the venue was now nearly packed to capacity. People stood everywhere, lining the sides of the stairways that led up to the venue’s second level seating area. Despite this increase in size, the atmosphere of patient, calm anticipation remained for Shauf’s set to come. In this sea of people, I noticed a high number of younger couples (which again must have been an indication that Shauf was going to make many Valentines’ dreams come true), along with an older man standing next to me, who had interest solely in the music, and more stylish beanies that adorned the heads of indie music lovers than I could count. The trickle of people didn’t slow down until Shauf and his band took the stage.
As soon as the lights dimmed, signaling Andy Shauf’s appearance onstage, a huge cheer erupted throughout the now massive crowd that packed every square inch of Exit/In. Numerous cries of “Thank you, Andy!” and “We Love You, Andy!” rang out from random points from within the crowd. Andy and his band chose to respond with their best, and launched head first into their set.
The focal point of the music was definitely Andy. His very subdued yet tight vocal style works perfectly with the minimal instrumentation that his band provided, and his stage presence is one that draws you in, despite no clear intent or evident action to do so in any major way. The entire ordeal felt extremely – chill, for lack of a better term. Andy’s singing combined with his band seemed to melt the stress away from the majority of the room, and everyone seemed to fall into a subtle, unspoken rhythm of listening to original songwriting and having a delightful time.
Shauf and his band, despite being very minimal, still have a wide range of styles and colors that they use in their live performances. Songs went from feeling jazzy and downtempo, to spacey and psychedelic, to intimate and chill. Shauf spoke very little between songs, but the audience remained closely attentive until the end. What occurred to me most at this point was that the songs and the songwriting were really the stars of the night, and that’s what people had come out for.
I left that night feeling decompressed, de-stressed, and thankful for the chance to see musicians like Andy Shauf and Molly Sarlé who pour their real hearts into their songs. If there’s anything that I took away from this night of intimate, atmospheric music, it’s that people (especially in Nashville) will always be interested in original music, and unique songs.
Check out Shauf’s upcoming tour to see if he’ll be in a town near you.