by Michael Thomas
As Dan Mangan releases more albums, his band also seems to get a little louder. Thus was the case last night at the Mod Club, where the re-christened Dan Mangan + Blacksmith played a show that was essentially a test run and preview of Club Meds, the new album out early next year.
Starting off the night, though, was Peregrine Falls, a duo consisting of Gord Grdina and Kenton Loewen, both Mangan’s bandmate. Their set was all instrumental, with thrashing guitar from Grdina and pounding drums. The riffs could get fairly repetitive at times, but they at least mixed it up for one song that involved Grdina delicately playing the guitar with a bow while Loewen gently hit cymbals.
For the main event, the aforementioned three musicians were joined by John Walsh. Normally Mangan plays with a bigger band but the shortened member list worked with what they had. Opening with the ambient Club Meds opener “Offred,” it introduced the band well before moving into “Starts with Them, Ends With Us” from Oh Fortune.
Overall, Mangan + Blacksmith played a song that evenly split the less-familiar Club Meds tracks with numbers from Oh Fortune and even a few from Nice, Nice, Very Nice. A majority of the set saw technical difficulty, and on the first next few songs Mangan seemed a little stiff in his vocal delivery. But as he went on, he gradually regained his footing.
“Mouthpiece” helped re-energize the band, which sailed into a smooth rendition of “Leaves, Trees, Forest.” Perhaps the most unexpected transition was Mangan playing the minimalistic b-side “Wants” followed directly by “Post War Blues” and all its blistering solos. Another highlight was Mangan played the lovely “Baskets” solo on acoustic guitar. Expectedly, he had the room singing along with him.
Two more Club Meds songs, “XVI” and “Forgetery,” were followed by “How Darwinian” and “If I Am Dead,” before Mangan closed the set with “Vessel,” which seemed to test his limits on how loudly he can shout. For an encore, he played a delightfully reworked version of “Sold,” stripping away its country-roots aura and making it almost bluesy. With audience participation, it was a nice way to close.
Mangan will return to Toronto in a few months, and it remains to be seen how different the music will sound with a fuller band.