Last night, Dan Mangan stopped in Toronto touring his new album Oh Fortune, this time playing the slightly bigger venue of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. I was at first a little worried that he wouldn’t quite fit the bigger venue (partly because of how incredible last year’s show at Trinity St. Paul’s was), but I was quickly won over.
The first opening band was once again The Crackling who also double as Mangan’s backup band. This time around the guys had a recording to give out, their full-length Keep Full Ambitious. Having reviewed the album earlier this year I found myself singing along with the four songs they played.
At first, lead singer Kenton Loewen’s mic was turned way too low and his vocals in the opening number were severely crippled. Thankfully the technical staff were alerted of this quickly enough to save the rest of the set.
Watching the band play is sometimes hypnotic, particularly the kick-ass bass player Jeremy Page. He was playing an upright bass but still managed to completely rock out while playing it.
Loewen’s forceful personality really meshed well with the audience, particularly when he made the audience repeat the phrase “I hear what you’re saying” about six times until they were loud enough. When the audience finally reached that level, their song “Keep Me Drunk” became a very magical song indeed.
Next up was The Daredevil Christopher Wright. I had heard their name around before but their performance was the first time I actually heard their music. Their set could basically be divided into two parts: first the really weird and second the less weird.
The weird first half had two of the three members switching instruments almost randomly and singing about wolves and bears. The second half showed the band does sing normal-sounding songs, and their vocal harmonies are pretty fantastic.
The Wisconsin band also made great and awkward banter with the audience, charming many people who had never even heard the name before.
Finally it was Dan Mangan’s turn and he appeared on stage to deafening applause. He opened with the first track of Oh Fortune, “As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All.” The orchestral tune proved to be a great introduction, and he followed it with “Sold.” “Oh Fortune” came next where he showcased the band’s muscle. While this performance had fewer musicians than his previous show, they managed to make at least twice as much noise.
And this noise was good noise, let me tell you. The guitar solos in “Post War Blues” were absolutely phenomenal. It’s one thing to hear them, but to see the solo rocked out (in this case by guitarist Gordon Grdina) is a whole other beast. After the riotous number, someone in the audience screamed out “That was awesome!” to which Mangan wittily (and humbly) replied “That was loud.”
The remark was proof that despite the huge success Mangan has seen over the last two years, he still remains the extremely humble and personable man he has always been. His reaction to some of Loewen’s comments (Loewen plays drums) were always amusing to listen, and he reached the height of lovable awkwardness when he began talking about “birthday days” and then said it made no sense.
The set was completely filled with tunes from Nice, Nice, Very Nice and Oh Fortune. He played the latter album almost in its entirety save for the song “How Darwinian.” He even played his three slower Oh Fortune songs in a row, in the same order as on the album.
His Nice, Nice, Very Nice tunes were eagerly lapped up by the audience. When he sang “Sold” earlier on his pause during the line “But I’m still tired of sleeping with the light on” a fan yelled the line he was about to say, making him smile (and the audience laugh) before he continued with the song.
Mangan undoubtedly made a perfect choice in keeping the Crackling as his backup band. Every member was absolutely incredible and completely suited to playing up Mangan’s louder sound.
He eventually closed the first set with “Jeopardy,” his song composed entirely of questions. He returned for an encore, and started by playing “The Indie Queens Are Waiting” solo. He obviously didn’t have Veda Hille traveling with him, and the audience (not in time) supplied her “Are we cool now?” line.
Mangan then played a very sincere cover of “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” by Neutral Milk Hotel. The next was the song everybody had been waiting for, “Robots.” Despite it being his biggest hit no one yet seemed sick of it, and the audience clapped and sang along to every word. Surprisingly Mangan leapt of the stage during the singing of the refrain and strolled through the right-hand side of the audience before returning to the stage.
Finally, Mangan and the rest of the band members played “So Much For Everyone” which once again retained the church-choir atmosphere toward the end.
The night was another huge success for Mangan and it seems like he still has more room to move upward.