This past Friday at the Vogue Theatre, Dan Mangan + Blacksmith played the first of two homecoming shows, performing with a fresh surge of lifeblood flowing through every note and pristine hook they delivered.
This intensity is not unheard of for Mangan and crew. In the past several years he has aligned himself was some of the city’s finest musicians, but the much needed break they took from touring and the recording of their January release Club Meds has really seen a spike in their delivery.
Warming the stage was Astral Swans from Calgary, who, by this point in the tour, wasn’t completely over his head as far as venue size and crowd is concerned, but was still a fresh face whose psychedelic rockabilly-like pop is refining as he goes. However, his debut record All My Favorite Singers Are Willie Nelson gets major points for having an entertaining title and “Beginning of the End” is a really great track.
Certainly not sporting any green edges were Hayden, who’ve been at this game for years. Thornhill, Ontario’s Paul Hayden Desser and his band of three played a set that was all over the map, going as far back as 1995’s Everything I Long For. They sounded really good and though I haven’t been their biggest supporter or paid much mind to them in the past, I am warming up to some of the newer material from Hey Love, which was nicely offered on this night.
But, on to the main players!
From the second Blacksmith hit the stage, you could feel the pulse of energy the band had behind them as they injected even more atmosphere into their opening track, “Offred,” a song I find as being a little guarded on record. Here, there was more warmth and a lot more fury, trumpeter JP Carter added his signature dash of brass and guitarist Gord Grdina masterfully picked away and came down hard in a wash of pedal driven noise when needed.
Following this up with “Vessel,” the gesture was even more dramatic, the band more on fire than a just a few minutes before. Mangan’s call of “STOP. WAIT. UNHAND ME” rang loud, clear, and beautifully over the crowd, again joined by Grdina’s amazing guitarwork while drummer Kenton Loewen and bassist John Walsh kept expert time.
Something I appreciated about this show was that Dan Mangan appeared to have stepped back a bit to let Blacksmith do the talking. Sure, he is a crucial player and without his songwriting and graveled voice the music would be a different beast altogether, however Mangan seemed intent on keeping the focus on the players — and the players did shine indeed.
Playing to the hometown crowd came of course with nods to some of the older songs that pushed Dan Mangan further into the spotlight.
“Road Regrets” was reworked into something more blistering and unsteady while “Robots” was freely given to the audience, who obviously ate it right up. The stage filled with members of Hayden and Astral Swans, everybody joining in to sing those now famous lines about robots needing love too. Sure, I too have had my fill of that song, but truthfully it was one of those perfect moments that I’m certain many will hold for a long time to come.
At around midnight, as the last notes faded, I peered around at the sold out crowd filing out of the building, who had been given a lesson in how music can be changed, and how it can change you. A most excellent band led by a most gracious man had filled this place with energy and inadvertently plastered a smile on the faces of many. And I say, as I’ve said many times before, this Dan Mangan guy does me proud.