When Chris Cohen took the stage, there were almost as many dim red lights as you’d find if you were developing photos in a darkroom. By the time Andy Shauf played his headlining set, the sold-out crowd was thrust into pitch-black conditions. The murky music venues of Brooklyn can often be disorienting, but Rough Trade on Wednesday was like a horror movie without the killer. And though fans vying for space up front could barely see their own feet, the view was the least of their worries. All of us, like blind mice in a maze, were stricken by the sound, and instinctively scurrying towards it.
In a room so packed, there was no escaping that fantastic trap. Chris Cohen and his band, a tight-knit 4-piece from L.A., poured their West Coast vibes into the very first notes of “Yesterday’s On My Mind,” shaping a cool, blue sound that journeyed far from the city’s grime. Digging into thick jazz progressions and counterintuitive time signatures, they admirably dodged the typical Cali sound, their smooth harmonies sounding much less Beach Boys-y than they would with a straight 4/4 beat. Cohen, a mild-mannered frontman, emphasized the lyrics with his soft, almost stern vocals, which kept their whimsical sound grounded as they jammed. Even though the band was strikingly in synch, they seemed to find solitude in their own little spaces on the stage.
It was 10:20 when Andy Shauf appeared with his drummer, keyboardist, and bassist. At 10:22, the crowd was watching him take his first breath in pin-drop suspense. His fans, of course, knew what was coming: that strange, angelic voice, with all its curled vowels and twisted edges; his inimitable rhythm a song of its own. Opening with the sinister “Alexander All Alone” from his newest album, The Party, Shauf had Rough Trade wrapped around his finger. His showstopping vocals were handled with care by his band, whose elegant cohesion cast his narratives in a haunting, yet mellow light. Shauf’s gentle annunciation made his words sound delicate and carefully-constructed, as if each line were a string of fragile paper cranes.
Draped in his own long hair, the only thing glowing (save the neon on his sneakers), Andy carried us through the peaks and valleys of their varied setlist; a blend of old and new from his unique discography. Fans were rewarded with favorites like “Quite Like You,” “Twist Your Ankle,” and “You’re Out Wasting” early on, and greeted each one with sudden squeals of recognition. Between verse and chorus, the band’s transitions were gripping, with dynamic changes that ranged from a purr to a roar – all built with intense eye contact and careful, subtle count-offs. “This is niiiice,” said Andy quietly, the first time he’d spoken so far. “Does anybody have any questions out there?” For a long moment, the crowd was silent. The hungry mice were stunned.
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley