Thursday night Andy Shauf’s “Norm World Tour” made its Los Angeles stop at the Belasco Theatre. The lights were low, the moods were chill, and the songs were hypnotizing in their depth and arrangement. On a stage covered with leafy plants and vines (On the mics, on the hanging lights, etc.) Shauf’s story/song vocals intertwined with a pair of woodwind players throughout the evening, together leading the audience down a winding path with stops at all the songs on the new album, and other favourites along the way.
After a strong opening set from Nashville’s Katy Kirby, and a brief intermission, Shauf and band hit the leafy stage where they were engulfed in lighting that was more of a moody glow than typical concert lighting, with shadows cast across the stage and performers, halting at a bright purple-lighted backdrop. As the band eased into “Wasted On You” the interplay between Shauf’s voice and the woodwinds set the tone for the kind of duet they’d be performing all night. Counter melodies, accompaniment, intricate flights of fancy here and there with the keyboards, the winds were a whole character unto themselves. Flute, sax, clarinet all brought their own flavors to the palette and helped round out the sound on top of the strong rhythm section.
2:42. Is that the perfect song length? According to many that’s the magic number. The second song on “Norm”, also the second song of the night, “Catch Your Eye” clocks in at exactly 2:42. With a vocal part that encapsulates Shauf’s gift for interesting melodies, it was feeling perfect on this evening while the crowd swayed and a few stragglers in the back who apparently hadn’t gotten the message the show had started, conversed. But that settled down naturally throughout this song as the trance took over the room. As Shauf sang “Words under my breath, Float through the ceiling” under one of the prettiest ceilings in the city you had to wonder if his legendary attention to detail led to this venue choice. Probably. Next tour, Wiltern? Shrine? This song, like all the rest, would sound incredible in Disney Hall, a site Shauf was set to play almost exactly a year earlier but had to cancel because of a band covid illness.
The trance over the audience held through four more songs from Norm, highlighted by the extra 1970’s FM Radio sounding “You Didn’t See” (Some songs just sound so right in Los Angeles and this is one of them), the moody “Paradise Cinema”, and revelatory title track “Norm” where the ending line “Stop these wicked ways and I will lead you to the promised land” gets soaked in increasing amounts of reverb and it feels like the protagonist is actually flying us away to a heavenly destination. Sound people for this tour are very involved musically, to great effect. Later in the show when the band got introduced to the audience the whole sound crew was saluted as well and very well deserved.
After half of the new album had been played the purple lights turned to gold and the pace picked up with the title track from 2020’s “The Neon Skyline”, a big crowd favourite, followed by Clarinet-centric “Quite Like You”, Flutey “Clove Cigarette”.
“To You” from 2016’s “The Party” kicked off the blue period of the show, followed by “Neon Skyline” classic “Thirteen Hours” who’s rawness was amplified with huge gritty guitar, maybe the most raucous part of the night, and climaxed with a drum solo for 3-4 minutes which led into the equally raw “Living Room”.
After that we were back into “Norm” with a few songs highlighted by another rockier adventure with “Daylight Dreaming”
The show settled into a lower key scarlet haze for the last three songs from “Norm” to wrap up the main set. The magical reverb appeared again on “Long Throw” beside the jazziest and most-chromatic arrangement of the night. The winds became more dissonant and experimental on “Don’t Let It Get To You”. And things closed out with the heartbreaking mantra of “All My Love”.
Shauf and band walked off stage to massive applause for about 35 seconds then returned for exactly one song in the encore, “The Magician”. Another contender for the most electric and powerful song of the night, closing out with energy on high and the “Do do do” lyrics and the crowd in a tizzy. And that was it. Shauf thanked everyone for coming out and the band walked off stage and people in the crowd were all “Wait that’s really it?” and the lights came on and yes that was really it. And it was awesome. And at a weeknight show everyone could be home and in bed well before 11pm, which seems extremely civilized. Andy Shauf does it right.
Words and photos by Tim Aarons