Curling piano riffs and looming heartache fill the songs of Julia With Blue Jeans On, the latest LP from Canadian songwriter Spencer Krug, who performed Tuesday night under his Moonface moniker at the Swedish American Hall. Despite the relationship-under-a-microscope lyrical focus of his piano ballads, Krug was in good spirits — cracking jokes throughout the night with a shot of whiskey in hand. He was quick to point out he’d arrived late and started chugging whiskey, forcing the audience to sit and wait. When the crowd cheered, he smiled and sarcastically told us great work for applauding alcoholism. Still not ready to begin, he asked everyone to move around and take smoke breaks (“I’m going to be here awhile”) and joked about how the seated event felt far too formal for his piano talents (“I’m no concert pianist and I’m going to fuck up and you’re all going to hear it”).
Krug went on to play every song from Julia With Blue Jeans On, opening with the album highlight “Love the House You’re In,” which begins with a delicate right-hand riff and slides into a deep, soothing chorus. Before launching into “November 2011,” he jokingly invited the audience to leave the room if cheesy songs about love annoy them. Krug is nothing if not polite, boyish, and absolutely endearing. Watching him drunkenly lean into the piano to feel the deep bass vibrations or lean back and nail a twinkling piano riff added an emotional depth to the performance that only enhanced the songs over their recorded originals. Meanwhile, the thundering deep notes of “Everyone Is Noah, Everyone Is The Ark” produced a quiet storm in the hall with its bold, howling chorus — “I don’t know if I can call this home,” Krug cries during the song’s climax — and biblical lyrics.
Near the beginning of the show, Krug turned from behind his piano and said that the seating arrangement and venue looked like a wedding. Which it did. Especially once Krug plunged into his plaintive love songs for an audience that sat perfectly still, mesmerized by the chest-ripped-open quality of Julia With Blue Jeans On. Krug continued to make jokes and smile along with the audience between songs, pausing each time for a careful sip of whiskey before returning to another twisting cut from the album.
After leaving the stage and returning for an encore — which didn’t feel forced but more like the audience actually wouldn’t let him leave — he played a simplistic new song with a chorus lamenting his tendency to wreck cities. Ostensibly addressing the heartbreaking reasons he left Montreal for Helsinki, Finland, the final flourish of “City Wrecker” (my name for it) drew a standing ovation. Then a quiet thank you and Krug was gone. Following an intimate and stark hour of music, the silence felt like a misguided divorce. But if Krug’s prodigious output stays true, San Franciscans can rest assured we’ll see him again soon.