(Photo Credit: Alessandra Leimer) Haley Heynderickx kicks off the evening with a solid set of three covers, four originals and a song about mac and cheese written for an open mic night in Portland, Oregon. The set opens with a clear-as-crystal rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s introspective country folk song, “Rex’s Blues.” Heynderickx is your modern day folk singer. Her sound is a musical experiment, theatrical and provoking, ultra-fine with a staccato fringe. Her acclaimed first full-length album, I Need to Start a Garden, may be lost on some purists but her ability to captivate a room with only a Gibson guitar and the richest bell-toned warble you’ve heard is nothing short of Joni Mitchell or Karen Dalton, whose “Green Rocky Road’ she covers later in the set.
Heynderickx continues with “Drinking Song,” a song she says, with a slight smile, is “secretly about how we’re all gonna die.” She makes the room laugh quite a bit. Her wit is quick and charming, telling an under-the-influence tale of stealing mac-and-cheese from a Whole Foods and then singing a song about it. Somehow, in spite of its origin story, it’s one of the best songs of the evening. Other notable highlights: “Fish Eyes,” which tells the story of her parent’s first date, a cover of Anja Garbarek’s “I Won’t Hurt You” and set clincher “The Bug Collector,” which, with Heynderickx’s impressive guitar playing, doesn’t miss the percussion, trombone and upright bass of the studio recording. We look forward to seeing her again when she plays the Newport Folk Festival this summer!
Andy Shauf tells us during a half-hearted Q&A that he doesn’t have a favorite book but he’s currently reading one on reincarnation. When he’s not busy trying to convince his bandmates of the validity of past life experiences, he headlines sold-out shows in Providence. Backed by bass, guitar, keyboard, two clarinets, and Dani Nash, an effortlessly cool drummer, Shauf gave us 16 songs worth of ambitious music arrangements and easily one of the strongest live performances I’ve witnessed. After seeing what I felt was an okay set at the Newport Folk Festival in 2015, I skeptically made my way through Shauf’s catalog on the suggestion of a good friend and Shauf enthusiast.
One thing I’ve always known: Shauf’s a great storyteller and prolific songwriter. In 2016 he gave us The Party, a concept album that beautifully weaves silent, corner-of-the-room realizations and confessions of party-goers with silent, corner-of-the-room realizations and confessions of self. Shauf plays several songs off of The Party and each one is met with heavy applause — particularly “Quite Like You,” “The Worst in You” and “Early to the Party,” whose catchy and hypnotic arrangement has everyone swaying in unison. Shout-out to the clarinets for their incredible breath control and the rest of the band for bringing the songs to life. Their excellent musical accompaniment plays so well behind Shauf’s vocals. Rolling, melty and sometimes indecipherable, his vocal performance is what you hear if you play a song on vinyl in reverse — except, you know, not creepy.
It’s been about a minute since Shauf released new music and the audience is hungry for new material. Asked when a new album was coming out, Shauf replies, “I don’t know — hopefully soon.” Hopefully. The set closes with three new tracks: “Try Again,” “Things I Do” and “Changer,” which all continue telling emotional stories through the lens of the observant introvert. It’s rare to see a performance that commands so much attention without demanding any. One thing I know now: Andy Shauf records are great but the live show makes them amazing. I am a skeptic turned believer overnight.