Photo Credit: Aiden Morgan

Review by Casey Whitworth


“I will die a poor man, covered in dust, dreaming of you…”

Monday evening, as the sun was setting, I approached the wooden doors of the First Church in Cambridge and realized how long it’d been since I’d been in a church. As I sat down in the pews, books of hymns along the back of the seats in front of me, stained glass windows casting vivid color into the nave, and Christian iconography filling the vastness of the space, I felt a sense of peace. These things are familiar to me; it was like coming back home. To me, it was the perfect setting for an Andy Shauf show.

Andy Shauf, a singer-songwriter from Saskatchewan, is currently on tour for his eighth album, “Norm. I’ve been a long-time fan of his. A friend introduced me to his music in high school, bringing back beautiful memories from my hometown. I frequently return to his discography when I’m feeling particularly nostalgic. I went to a show of Andy’s in Boston in 2022, and I was eager to see him perform again, especially in this unconventional venue. 

Minnesota-raised, Vermont-based musician Lutalo Jones started the night off, and I first noticed how beautiful the sound reverberated through the church. I was initially curious how the acoustics would turn out in such an ample space, but it was lovely, every note and lyric completely enveloping the room. Lutalo gave a humble performance, graciously thanking the audience for having them. It was just them and their guitar, raw and real, their voice reminding me of British singer-songwriter and producer Dean Blunt, known for his deep, dark, and resonant vocals. They started with earlier releases and then moved to some newer songs off their debut album, “AGAIN,” recorded on a pecan ranch in Texas. Their voice struck me as hollow and raspy in the lower register but smooth and vulnerable higher up. They told stories with their lyrics, and their guitar playing was simple but enchanting. They set a nice scene for Shauf. 

When Shauf stepped on stage, he got right into the set. Like Lutalo, it was just him and his guitar, and he brought a similar rawness and vulnerability. All I could think throughout the show was how magical it all felt. His vocals were evident and striking, not unlike his recordings, but experiencing it live was remarkable. Shauf has a strong yet gentle voice, which is soft but powerful and unique. He had to clear his throat a few times on the higher notes, but that’s my favorite part of seeing music live: witnessing the human behind the enigmatic artist, little imperfections stemming from emotion or nerves, whatever it may be. Andy Shauf is exceptionally skilled in eloquently conveying human experiences.

The set was melancholic. The stories he tells with his music are all the same; he tells them with different characters and different points of view. From Judy to Sherry to all the other addressees of his songs, it’s a story of love, unrequited and failing and forgotten and in all its many forms. It’s a story of regret, and Andy seemed to possess a regretful, apologetic look every time he looked at the audience. There’s a feeling of yearning, wanting, wondering, present in all of his work, and as his words echoed from the sanctuary, I felt it, too.

I admire that he didn’t just play crowd favorites. He played many songs I didn’t expect him to, and although I missed hearing some of my favorites, I gained a new appreciation for songs that I hadn’t listened to as much. A standout to me was “Covered in Dust,” a haunting and ethereal delivery that enchanted the room in time. “Alexander All Alone” was also terribly chilling, sincere, and full of anguish. It was not a cheerful set, and I was heavily affected, but the feeling stuck with me long after I left the show.

Andy’s a romantic, an overthinker, and a “magician.” He’s a quiet man, and the audience fell completely silent to hear what he had to say. He can put feelings into words so simply and in a unique way that few can recreate. Many of his songs are stories with characters playing roles, and he sets a scene you can relate to, no matter how specific. He often utilizes a refrain, going back and repeating a singular phrase that perfectly encapsulates whatever he is trying to express with his stories. “Why do I always see the worst in you? Do you always see the worst in me?” He performs like it’s hurting him like he’s unsure of himself. At one point, he stopped himself: “I fucked up that lyric, it’s important. I can’t believe I’m doing this.” He apologized to the audience, but no one seemed to mind his mistake. We were all just happy to be there, and I hope Andy forgives himself. I hope he knows how special his music is to his fans. 

It’s not often I come upon someone who is also an Andy Shauf fan, but when I do, it’s clear he has touched many with his honesty and complexity. After my second Andy Shauf show, all I can say is I can’t wait for the next time I get the opportunity to see him perform.