The One Juan Wauters Live at the Fox

Photo credit: Carmelle Safdie

“I don’t know you, I think you’re a fool,” sang the dark-haired man on stage, strumming the guitar in front of a red light that blinked the room in and out of existence at regular intervals. Juan Wauters played at the Fox Cabaret this past Saturday as the opening act for Maria in the Shower. As this was Maria’s final performance together as a band, the turnout was busy early on, and many stood silently in front of the stage, looking up at a man in a turtleneck playing the acoustic guitar all by himself.

After separating from the underrated Brooklyn-based punk band the Beets, Wauters began working on songs that would end up making their way onto his debut record, North American Poetry. NAP came out via Captured Tracks this year back in February. An album that, on the whole, had a profound sense of simplicity, and an introspective quality not so immediately felt in his work with the Beets, this quietness came out in a show that was not as random or off-script as his shows have gained a reputation of being.

Wauters stood in front of a DIY flag that was a collage of the Stars and Stripes in one corner (a sign of the Uruguayan-born Wauters’s love of America, specifically Jackson Heights, Queens in New York City), a masked wrestler in the other, and the phrase “locusts and wild honey,” the only words found on the patchwork piece. The flag, as the main visual onstage, with its handmade feel to it, fit Wauters perfectly whose creative charm was as basic and rough around the edges. Singing in a Spanish-inflected monotone that was emotional stoicism down pat to a T, Wauters’s laconic words matched the running flow of notes that was played like he was building castles in the air with his stream-of-consciousness thoughts. Drifting through his set, Wauters slid into his Spanish songs like “Escucho Mucho” with so much ease, the change in language did not first register since the tone remained in the same, continuing vein of musing wonder.

Juan Wauters’s set was a solid one that worked off the crowd’s mood. There were many dutifully looking at Wauters, but very few who cut loose and limber. The night was only just getting started, and Wauters’s brand of low-fi acoustics was more beautiful than it was rousing. And it was the closer that hit enchantingly deep as it did sad, like when Wauters asks, “How come everybody wants to be the same?” It’s a question that he’s asking us, but it’s not one we’re asking about him.