Andy Shauf + Holy Hum @ Upstairs Cabaret – February 4th 2015

Holy Hum’s aesthetic has me captivated; big tables with boxy instruments illuminated by white Christmas lights. These magical boxes manipulated by pensive fingers produce throbbing soundscapes that don’t push, they throw the envelope of post-rock in your face. Even the composition is unusual. The two illuminated ones are those projecting waves of moody sounds, yet they both look towards the light of Andrew Lee, the apparent creative director of Holy Hum. Lee loops and delays rapid strumming patterns all while vibrating at an energy that is directly sourced from classic rock performances. Spinning in circles, a flailing (but talented) electric guitar player, falling on knees in a fervor after one song: it’s all there.

Minimal vocals are all that’s needed for their progressive frantic sound. An odd, yet perfect, opener for Andy Shauf, a man who must be the best fireside companion. You can see the lines of song and notes being developed within Saskatchewan’s prairie fields alongside a river. Every word quietly arrives like a cold wind; prickling goosebumps and soothed only by the blanketing sound of the bow of violin and the fingers of a pianist and acoustic guitars. Just like a spooky story told round the campfire.

Wendell Walker as the opening song announced this gothic-Canadian folk reminiscent of walking through an abandoned house and feeling the ghosts of past inhabitants. Perhaps one of them is Walker himself. The creaks and groans of old wood revitalized by thoughtful compositions of space and climate. When Andy sings: “now this past winter was the coldest in years. // it’s hard to explain if you’ve never lived here, // but it locks your doors and starts your mind” it makes everyone shift a little bit closer to their friends to ensure this sad truth has not befallen upon them.

All of Andy’s lyrics are clearly heard by the crowd as the Upstairs sound system triumphs over all other Victoria venues. To praise only the venue would be disingenuous as Andy Shauf and the accompanying musicians perform like they are trapped inside your laptop or record player inside your living room. The recordings are sincere.

Crisply these thoughtful short stories are sung out and enhanced, but never overpowered by the wonderful additions of four talented musicians. While these instruments are not necessary to vessel Andy Shauf’s songwriting, it can and does float along. These instruments color in the pictures he sketches with his voice.

At one point, the sound of a metronome was crafted from the violinist and drummer. The sound hypnotized the crowd into a standstill of awe. The set’s midpoint introduced new material from an EP sadly without any release date. As Andy said: it’ll be sometime” Ambiguity announced the growth heard in the following songs, while the earlier and older music captivated with quietly confident charisma. The new added a livelier melody that perhaps hinted towards a jauntier EP than The Bearer of Bad News, especially with the addition of the performing violinist.

Streams of interaction filter through with Andy asking for questions and telling us what his bandmates ate on the ferry from Vancouver. The casualness reminds you that although Andy Shauf is a name to know and admire, he still could be found among the crowd himself. There’s no ego here.

When all the instruments and musicians left the stage, Andy returned as he arrived: quietly and seriously. Asking for requests, songs from all three EPs are shouted out from a crowd of peers – mostly in their twenties as Andy is.

He ends with ‘Hometown Hero’ a song that emulates the gothic canadiana genre that he stands on the forefront of. He says thanks, smiles and leaves the stage after it’s all over, leaving the crowd to drift out in a stupor of illustrated anguish set to a sincere sound.

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