One of my favorite things to do is perform with singer songwriters. Since the first time at age 10 that I accompanied my singer songwriter father onstage, I've had the pleasure of working with dozens of performers, made a bunch of mistakes, and learned a lot about how to effectively accompany an artist without getting in the way. Here's 3 ways you can really make your set shine:
Don't overdo whatever you play- everything you do should revolve around enhancing the artist's lyrics, not filling in with that awesome Metallica lick you learned over the weekend. Like a good spice, you want to be discernible in the overall sound, but not over the top. You wouldn't slather on pepper an inch thick on your potatoes- don't do the sonic equivalent onstage or in the studio.
2. It's about the Artist
Period. Whatever you've heard about what an amazing player you are, how you should have more solos, forget it. Whatever makes the music great and fulfills the singer songwriter's creative vision is what you need to do.
3. Think Acoustic
While once in awhile a singer songwriter will ask you to be a little more experimental, most of the time it's best to stick with basic "acoustic" sounds for accompanying. Make sure to have your Wurlitzers, Rhodes, pianos, and accordion sounds cued heading into the gig.