With four well-received albums, two Juno awards, and continuous world tours under his belt, Dan Mangan has quietly become one of Canada’s finest rock musicians of the last decade. Judging by the adoring crowd he and his band performed to at the Mod Club on Monday in support of their upcoming album, Club Meds, it’s a safe bet that Dan Mangan + Blacksmith won’t be losing their sweetheart status any time soon.
Opening for Mangan and his band was… well, his band. Kind of. Peregrine Falls is Gord Grdina and Kenton Loewen, guitarist and drummer for Mangan’s outfit, respectively. It’s purely an instrumental experience, heavy with thrashing punk rock-outs and complex riffage. It’s fast and aggressive, and although some vocals overtop of the more repetitive guitar lines would’ve been nice, this frenzied duo were an exciting departure from a typical opener. The crowd even did a little head banging during the wilder songs, and for a few fleeting moments you might’ve thought we were all at a metal show. Of course, the friendly vibe and hipster attire shook those illusions pretty fast.
Peregrine Falls sets up Dan Mangan + Blacksmith well in that you’re floored by some incredible jams, and bam, out comes Mangan with his squee-inducing voice and everyone goes nuts. At the same time, you go in appreciating the band’s musicianship all the more. That’s the point, I reckon. The band even played in a straight row across the stage, with Mangan far left and drummer Loewen on the far right. Indeed, these guys are approaching virtuoso on their instruments, especially Gord Grdina. This is prominent in the new tunes the band played from Club Meds. In many of the new songs, including “Offred,” “Mouthpiece,” and “Kitsch,” you could hear an evolution of the band in the complexity and dynamics of the two guitars and the daring drums.
But no matter how kickass the band is, everyone comes to hear Mangan, which speaks to how appealing the man is. His is a voice that hasn’t changed much over the years, at least compared with the rest of the band. That’s not a bad thing. Mangan’s growly, passionate style of singing is very much what makes people instant fans.
The sound of the new material has a refreshing flavour. On first listen, the guitar work seems more colourful than the band’s previous albums – almost beachy – but the songs carry that familiar bittersweet complexity in lyric and melody that keep clouds mixed in with the sunshine. Club Meds seems a fitting album title, as such. A closer look at the lyrics once the album is out will probably provide some tighter insight than that, however.
As for the actual performance, the set was solid; full of crowd singalongs to the favourites, entertaining on-stage banter, and diversity in song choice. Unfortunately the whole thing was marred by technical difficulties throughout. It’s a shame to have the lead guitar cut out just as you’re ready to lose your shit to the climax of a song. Mangan himself even forgot his lyrics early in the set, quipping something to the tune of, “You play a song 500 times already and you still forget the fucking words.” Naturally this drew big laughs from the crowd. (Rock stars can say anything on stage and be applauded for it, can’t they?)
One has to nitpick in a review but overall this gig was a mission accomplished. I’m excited to pick up Club Meds when it drops on January 15th, and that’s a time-tested mark of a great show.
The band played in support of Virgin Mobile’s RE*Generation initiative, which provides mentoring and job training to at-risk and homeless youth. Click the link to learn more.