SLCR #210: Dan Mangan + Blacksmith (March 7, 2015)

One of my great regrets in life is missing Dan Mangan’s last show in Regina. It was about a year and a half ago at Knox Metropolitan United Church. We had tickets, but it was the first really gross wintry day of the fall, and at the end of a long week, skipping out was much easier than leaving the house. I know some people who went to the show, and they all raved about it. Which is fine, that doesn’t really mean anything, doesn’t mean I’d have had a good time. But one of those jerks (hi Mark) took some video. And showed me the video. And it really did look phenomenal. And then I was sad. Ever since then, “remember Dan Mangan” has been a mantra whenever I feel like being lazy or reclusive or whatever.

Needless to say, when Dan Mangan (and Blacksmith, his newly-named backing band) announced a return date, I was all over it. That it was at Darke Hall, my favourite Regina concert venue, was even better. I ordered our tickets online and got them bundled with a download of his new album, Club Meds. And I listened to it a million times as soon as it came out – in no way did I give it one half-assed listen on the day before the show while not really paying much attention to it. That certainly wasn’t a thing I did at all.

Our show tickets weren’t actual tickets – we were just to show up at Darke Hall and my name would be on a list. Allegedly. I was not really feeling this. I have learned to accept that these days, 95% of the time, I will have printed-out PDFs instead of proper tickets as God intended, but trusting in some phantom list is something else entirely. Everything worked out, I was on the list, we got in, Dan Mangan’s website people are on the ball, but I feel confident in my ability to exchange physical tokens for access to restricted areas and don’t really understand why we need any other system.

The artistic director of the Regina Folk Festival opened the show to welcome us all there and read off the list of the night’s sponsors, as usually happens at one of these shows. She also noted that this was the first time they’d been allowed in Darke Hall since they last had Hawksley Workman there, which was (looks through old reviews) five years ago last month?! That seems impossible and yet it clearly is not. Maybe we all stomped too hard and caused structural damage? Anyway, she mentioned that the University of Regina is fundraising with the goal of renovating its downtown campus, including Darke Hall. I would love for this place to remain available for concerts, and while I don’t have $5 million to spare, maybe you do? http://www.uregina.ca/building-knowledge/

There were actually three artists on the bill. I’d seen Dan Mangan and Hayden before, both at the Regina Folk Festival (and I saw Hayden at Louis’ nearly 20 years ago), but as for the night’s opener, Astral Swans, I’d only heard the name. Astral Swans is one human from Calgary, which meant that I’d been lied to three times by the time he took the stage. Lucky for him, I’m a forgiving sort, mostly because he was real good. He played a very short set, just him and a guitar for around 20 minutes. I couldn’t tell you what songs he played, apart from a cover of Blue Eyes Cryin’ in the Rain, which I guess is something you could expect from someone whose debut album is titled “All my Favourite Singers are Willie Nelson.”

We then had the shortest set change I’ve ever seen. There is no way five minutes elapsed between the end of Astral Swans and Hayden taking the stage. As one who stayed sitting, I was pleased, but I felt bad for anyone who thought they had ample time to pee. I bet a lot of folks got caught unaware midstream.

In 1998, I saw Hayden at Louis’, declared him to be “not my thing,” and left early. A few years ago, he was at the Folk Festival and I came around on him. But this time, I really got it. This was a fantastic set of often dismal and depressing songs. Even the funniest moment had a dark undercurrent; he introduced the song No Happy Birthday by saying that his daughter makes the sign for “that’s enough” as soon as he starts playing songs that he’s written for her. To be fair, I didn’t get into him right away either.

In fact, I’ve had 17 years to get into Hayden and I’ve apparently squandered that time, so I don’t know what other songs he played, apart from knowing that Birthday and several others were from his newest record, Hey Love. I’d ask Mika for the titles of others – she rattled off a list when we left the show – but she’s asleep right now and it’s now been over a month anyway. (Since the concert, I mean; not since she’s been asleep.) She has told me that Hayden has gotten progressively better and better throughout his career, so maybe picking now as a starting point isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever done.

Dan Mangan was great! High expectations: met. I don’t even really know how to describe it except that it was a great show from start to finish. He played a lot of songs from Club Meds, had a pretty swank light show, played something that he described as “a lot of songs all in a row,” and made a comment about the Knox Met show I missed (“We’ll probably never be allowed back there”) that made the ol’ regret flare up again.

At one point, Mangan invited the crowd to stand up and dance; precisely one guy did so. He danced up from his seat, down the aisle, to the front of the stage, all the way back up the aisle, past his seat, out the door, and all the way home. Or, you know, he just walked back to his seat and I didn’t notice because he wasn’t The Only Guy Dancing at that point. I prefer my version.

I would have liked more songs from my favourite Mangan album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, but for the first song of the encore, he came out without Blacksmith and played Basket by himself and Basket is my favourite song of his. Up above, I referenced dismal and depressing songs, and this one is fantastically awful in the best way. That would have been enough to send me home happy in a miserable way (or miserable in a happy way) but he brought Blacksmith, Hayden and his band, and Astral Swans all back for a show-closing sing-along that was probably a better way to end the night.

So yes, this was a fantastic night of music; the kind of show that reminds you that it’s worth it to brave going out on gross wintry days. Except it had been very slushy during this particular day and it froze while we were at the show and the walk back to the car was life threatening and finally I had to leave Mika standing in one spot holding onto a tree while I slid down the street to retrieve the car so I could pick her up and really, we should all just force Dan Mangan to tour in the summer from now on.

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