Dan Mangan capped the month of February, playing a sold-out show at Toronto’s Massey Hall on the 28th. Hayden opened the show, and at 9:44 PM, Mangan took the stage without a single word of introduction. He kicked things off the same way his newest album—Club Meds (2015)—starts, with “Offred” and “Vessel.” Then, a pause: a, “Thank you. Hi How are you?” The lights shifted to the audience.
Mangan talked, humbly, about how playing at Massey was “an incredible dream come true.” He told a story about his seventeen-year-old self who asked his parents for Calvin Klein underwear; his mom, who called him spoiled and sent him to Guatemala—during the tail end of their 36-year Civil War. There, he “saw suffering and bravery,” people who weren’t sure who they could trust. Usually, Mangan said, the State has your back. It was the birth story of “Starts With Them, Ends With Us.”
It’s a beautiful song, the line “hills alive with the sound of guns” complemented by the heavy drums. The song also marked the moment before Mangan’s sound got (slightly) mangled. During “Leaves, Trees, Forest,” his vocals were drowned, and despite waggling his finger for a new guitar, it was hard to hear anything that was being sung. Before jumping into “Post-War Blues,” there was a long drum solo, with the rest of the stage dimmed—perhaps a chance for the crew to work on un-mangling the sound.
Though the sound issue persisted, Mangan’s set still delivered an emotional punch. Post-“Post-War Blues,” Mangan shifted back to narrative, telling the Massey audience how “Road Regrets” came to be. It was written, Mangan said, in his mom’s Subaru on his way to West Texas. He was driving to Austin, trying to get discovered at SXSW—as musicians do. He had been driving for 13 hours on just 3 hours of sleep. He finally got to his hotel, only to realize that he was at the wrong place. Defeated, he sat down and cried in the hotel’s hallway. With the opening lines “We drive until the gas is gone / And then walk until our feet are torn” sung slow, Mangan used his left hand to indicate notes, like a conductor. It worked: by the “crying shame” line, there was a quiet, hushed sing-a-long.
Mangan followed it up with “Pretty Good Joke” (the more experimental track a nice contrast to “Road Regrets”) before introducing, formally, Club Meds. Mangan said that the album is about “many things; its about the pack mentality and the onslaught of garbage from the media.” It was an apt description that was perhaps proposing a greater attention to “Mouthpeice’s” lyrical content— for instance, the direction to “disengage,” to “understand the words.”
Acknowledging the Massey curfew, Mangan then said, “but we would really like to play two more songs for you guys; you guys are really great,” and played an encore that consisted of “Basket” and “Sold,” both from his 2009 album. Mangan started “Basket” solo, but at the “won’t you return to me” line, his bandmates, fittingly, returned. Everyone stayed on stage for “Sold,” with Mangan also inviting the crowd to accompany him. He said, “I need you to sing—oh, oh, oh, oh. That’s what a lot of people singing sounds like. Oh, oh, oh, oh. Yes, okay, remember that.” Another punch as everyone sang along to a song about how “it hurts, it kills, it screams,” Mangan’s vocals crisp and clear as he stood at the edge of the stage and sang and said, “last time, soft and pretty.”
And it was, soft and pretty and nice, nice, very nice.
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Review by Leah Edwards | @leahhedwards