Photo's by Peter Rea

Photo’s by Peter Rea


… so as it transpires, this gig will be one that lives long in the memory for anyone who was lucky enough the see all of it.

Dan Mangan’s profile in native Canada is somewhat higher than over here, claiming numerous songwriting and album awards throughout his 6 year career. His latest album with his band Blacksmith, Club Meds, has also received favourable reviews, and his involvement in Simon Pegg’s film ‘Hector and The Search For Happiness’, have helped to raise his profile somewhat. A healthy crowd have gathered, apparently the largest that Dan has played to in this city.

Norwegian female singer songwriter Farao supports – she’s like a more lighthearted, ethereal and, at times danceable, version of Sharon Van Etten. Her first tune impresses the most – she triggers samples of her own voice using pads and adds keys and live vocals, while dancing. Her drummer comes in late, hitting a jazzy drum and bass beat. She switches between keys and guitar, but I prefer the more electro tunes. The crowd are impressed as well.

There’s a DJ arriving for a club night after this gig, and we’re running a bit late. Dan Mangan promises to keep the talking to a minimum and “get through as many fucking songs as we can”. They start as the new album does, with ‘Offred’ – the extended period of time that it took to soundcheck was well worth it. Two other guitarists and a drummer are accompanied by trumpet player JP Carter, as well as added synch sounds from whoever has a spare hand to press the keys. The line “What is it at all” leads to a thrilling amalgamation of sounds that spiral around the venue – delicate acoustic fingerpicking, a groovy bassline and a catchy beat amble along beautifully… it’s a shame that it has to stop.

‘Vessel’ follows, providing a highlight with it’s grandstand anthemic chorus and killer keyboard riff. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up when the beats drops back in, and not for the last time tonight. The trumpet leads the crescendo and the abrupt end causes the hall to be flooded with loud cheering. Dan has gradually added more depth from album to album, and the older tunes benefit from the input of extra musicians. ‘Leaves, Trees, Forest’ transports our minds to a place that looks not dissimilar to his hometown in Smithers, British Columbia (give it a Google). The tune fades away to almost nothing and comes back… sitting in the comfy balcony seat at the side was a great idea.

Kenton Loewen plays a thrilling jazzy drum solo to entertain us while instruments are being tuned. It’s not dissimilar to music from the Birdman soundtrack. ‘Post War Blues’ from the album Oh Fortune gets a huge reaction from the crowd – there’s a dancing section at the front, and the rest of us stare at the stage, entranced, nodding our heads. Another new one ‘Forgetery’ is a spine tingling highlight, too – a song written after a friend had said that her memory was shit, but her forgetery was bang on.

Dan Mangan

Dan Mangan

‘Mouthpiece’ ups the tempo – it’s about “all the bullshit”. The anger and passion can be felt… and then it goes a little darker; ‘Rows of Houses’ breaks down to a rapid guitar solo from Gord Grdina, who shreds and squeezes manic noises from his instrument, while erratically stomping around his corner of the stage, lit by strobes. Two repeated notes on a glockenspiel end the fantastic nightmare to introduce ‘Kitsch’, which is dark, in a more sombre manor. ‘New Skies’ is yet another beautiful highlight, starting with just guitar and Dan’s strong vocal, and ending once more in a full-blooded, trumpet heavy crescendo.

It’s late… the DJ’s are waiting to take over and Dan isn’t done yet. He feels guilty for the relatively short amount of time that his set has ended up with, and decides to continue the gig in the basement. We can’t all fit in the room, and before long the bouncers have enforced a one-in-one-out system. Dan stands on a small round table with his acoustic guitar and, surrounded by about 40 people, he plays 3 older, heart-wrenching tunes… the looks on faces of the people lucky enough to be in here, are of pure wonderment.

There’s good banter with the crowd, a few have to leave because of the babysitter, and Dan urges us to warmly cheer their replacements as they enter the room. They milk the applause, while looking rather embarrassed. “If you don’t sing along loud enough to this next tune, we’ll replace you with someone else”. Dan teaches us what to sing, and we all become eager backing vocalists for ‘So Much For Everyone’. This makes the song so much more special. Knowing glances are exchanged amid wide grins.

He finishes with ‘Robots’ – everyone here knows ALL the words to this one, and sing along wholeheartedly throughout. “Robot’s need love too, they want to be loved by you, they want to be loved by you…” the singing continues for some time, an experience that won’t be forgotten.

Here’s a hint to any musician – if you want to sell more merch, do an intimate acoustic set after the main event… there was little I could do to stop myself from buying a t-shirt as a momento, and from shaking the guys hand.

Dan Mangan + Blacksmith’s new material is more accessible to a wider, international audience, and then also his back catalogue needs to be explored… so get to it. A large proportion of Canadian’s were here tonight – Europe has some catching up to do. Everyone present has deep love for his music, judging by the final song alone. I shall wear the t-shirt with pride.

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Peter Rea

I like to go see fresh new music at Manchester's superb selection of smaller venues, and then share my enthusiasm.