Some songs explode on stage. In the lead-up to seeing Andy Shauf perform at Toronto’s historic Massey Hall, I’d been spending time with his discography, including his latest Norm. But I didn’t really connect with the mid-album track “Halloween Store” until I heard it live.
“Halloween Store” opens with the eponymous Norm, a character who regularly populates Shauf’s music, and who’s spending this particular afternoon sitting around getting high when he realizes that he doesn’t have a Halloween costume yet. As he sets about making a trip to the titular store, he forgets to lock his front door, and in trying to rectify that error, he accidentally locks his keys in the car. “At least, I’d locked one door,” Shauf sings as Norm, acknowledging his fumble with a mix of humor and defeat. His voice, so soft and shy, kneels sharply on certain consonants.
That bumbling, stumbling scene unfolds over the course of the first two verses, while a bass keeps pacing time with Norm’s diaristic account. But it’s the melodic synth lacing itself around Shauf’s lyricism—like a nimble, shimmering ribbon dance—that caused the song to burst open on stage. In tracing the minutiae of an errand, Shauf lands upon the subtle and sudden ways in which a simple moment can turn sublime. The synth registers that.
It materializes in the opening few seconds of the track and throughout as an instrumental chorus of sorts, transitioning the story from one event to the next. With a kind of weightless beauty, the synth juxtaposes the plodding mundanity of Shauf’s lyrics. They play off one another in the most bewitching tangle. I smiled beneath my mask.
That night, Shauf performed “Halloween Store” as part of a lengthy montage, moving through the tracks that follow it on Norm. As the drums and bass kept time, he’d step away momentarily to trade guitars. The audience sat and listened to a seamless flow from “Sunset” to “Daylight Dreaming” to “Long Throw” to “Don’t Let It Get to You.”
As lovely as that entire series was, “Halloween Store” remained the standout because some larger sense of hope and possibility erupted from that beguiling synth. In the days since that early May show, I’ve returned to the song again and again, listening as I stood outside my deck, gazing across the cityscape that now fills my view.
Perhaps the hope I hear burgeoned from the fact that Shauf’s show marked the first full concert I’d made it through since getting long covid—or some sense that my life in Toronto was starting to unfurl. Whatever the case may be, I hope years from now, when I think to put it on, I’m transported to these early days of bright, shining promise and I’m able to live in that moment once again.