If Nathan Shubert’s album release show could be described in one word, it would be hygge — the Danish & Norwegian word that refers to a cozy and convivial atmosphere that promotes wellbeing. Entering the venue, I was greeted by a friendly face at the door, warm lamp light, vocal jazz music featuring the stylings of Chet Baker to Ella Fitzgerald, soft couches and wooden chairs arranged in a semi-circle around a piano — all recalling a living room one would like to settle down in after a long day.
The night opened with the well-crafted songs of Jody Glenham, a close friend and long-time bandmate with Shubert. Her songs explored the value of dreaming, peace in death, lemon rinds, listening to The Sound, in addition to a Fugazi cover. They were all performed on the felted upright piano that contrasted Glenham’s strong and passionate voice.
Then came Nathan Shubert. It was clear that he is a master of his craft, utilizing his main tool: an upright piano prepared with a large sheet of soft felt. This treatment of the instrument resulted in a softening of the hammers, drawing attention to the mechanical nature of the instrument and creating a physicality to Shubert’s work.
His intentional cozy setting of the space was executed mindfully. Around the room during the set, couples embraced on couches and audience members closed their eyes to listen. The sound of the bar service, the cracking open of cans and pouring of liquids into glasses, was a fitting sonic accompaniment alongside the music. The performance space was a safe world in which to let go — a complex feeling given the neighbourhood of the venue, located in Chinatown; the harsh reality of gentrification just outside seemed to become a distant world. Regardless, Shubert’s music, gently invited audience members to listen and practice silence on a Friday night otherwise packed with many loud shows, bars, and parties.
Shubert’s set, seamlessly wove in and out of his new record, When You Take Off Your Shoes and his first record, 2017’s Folds. His performance was nothing short of masterful. Following the seemingly simple harmonic and melodic relationships that over time expand, shift, and re-align, Shubert’s carefully crafted work rewards you by bringing you back to where you began. After Glenham’s set of poignantly chosen words, listening to the instrumental music allowed the mind to reflect, meditate, and embody the delightfulness that is musical sound, leaving one with an experience of a perpetual becoming undone.
Nathan Shubert’s music is deserving of a careful listen. When you listen to this music at home, you should take a cue from this show and execute Shubert’s listening methods: dim the lights, find a comfortable place to sit and a nice audio source, and allowing yourself to take off your shoes.