"What Happens Next?" was the question asked in a recent CBC documentary on Dan Mangan that followed him on the days leading up to his show at the Orpheum Theatre last year. It was the biggest show that Dan had played in his career at that point, and exactly one year to the day after the show, we got the answer as Dan played a nearly-sold-out show at the gorgeous Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
As excited I was to see Dan play, I was equally excited about the opening band, The Rural Alberta Advantage. The Toronto trio seemed very small on the large stage, but they more than made up for it in talent; the distinct voice of lead singer and guitarist Nils Edenloff, Paul Banwatt's frantic and incredible drumming, and Amy Cole, who at times was simultaneously playing both the keys and bass pedals, the latter with her feet. And the talent exploded off the stage with their great stage presence and energy, translating into a strong set of catchy songs, some old and familiar, some new they were trying out and road testing.
They were definitely wining over the crowd, getting everyone to clap along a few times, with highlights of the set including the aptly named "Tornado '87" which starts soft then builds to a frantic pace worthy of the storm it's named after, the dark and moody "Under the Knife", and my favourite of theirs, the incredibly infectious and explosive "Stamp".
The room may have been a bit big for their sound, but they still put on a strong and enjoyable set; and judging by the standing ovation they got at the end, I wasn't the only one to think so.
It wasn't long after until Dan Mangan took the stage, flanked by his usual backing band of Gord Grdina on guitar, Kenton Loewen on drums and John Walsh on bass. They were joined by a couple other musicians on keys, strings and horns to fill out the sound, and Dan also made sure to point out that everyone playing with him was also in other bands, which included The Crackling, Haram, Brasstronaut, Fond of Tigers, and even mentioned you could pick up their CDs at the merch table, which I thought was a nice touch.
Before the show, I was a little afraid that Dan's charm and intimacy would lose something in the massive room, but those fears were squashed almost instantly, as the band took the stage and they started with Dan's most recent single, a b-side called "We Want To Be Pleasantly Surprised, Not Expectedly Let Down" and "About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All", a pair of grandiose songs. Dan's voice resonating through the entire room. It was especially notable during "Basket", when the band taking a break and Dan sang the incredibly heartbreaking song alone with his guitar -- no doubt resulting in more than a few tears shed.
The nearly-sold-out audience was rapt the whole night, with lots of 'recognition applause' (when the crowd cheers the song just from recognising the beginning of it) throughout the show. There was also the usual massive sing along for "Robots" -- which did not end the set, as it used to, but rather came about two thirds through -- and drew many people from their seats to fill the area right in front of the stage. Other highlights were the incendiary "Post War Blues" that builds to a manic ending and "Rows of Houses", which segued with an beautiful extended instrumental extro right into "Regarding Death and Dying".
The set ended with the all-question song "Jeopardy", but Dan was back out a few minutes later, saying they could sneak in a couple more before the curfew and went into "The Indie Queens Are Waiting" solo, with most of the crowd filling in for Veda Hille on the backup vocals. There was also an amusing moment when the phone of someone at the very front went off and Dan paused the song, asking to answer the phone -- but sadly it was too late and they missed the call.
After a couple older ones, including the beautiful "Fair Verona" from his first album, Dan ended the night by getting right down into the crowd for "So Much For Everyone", leading the crowd in the backup "ooh-ooh's" and calling out The RAA and anyone else backstage to fill the stage with friendly faces.
The first time I saw Dan it was in a room with about a tenth of the amount of people as this night, and I marvelled at Dan's ability to make a show intimate and close. And it's a talent that Dan has retained whether he's playing to three hundred or three thousand people; to make it feel like you're just sitting in someone's living room, watching a guy pour his heart out with his guitar.
We Want To Be Pleasantly Surprised, Not Expectedly Let Down; About As Helpful As You Can Be Without Being Any Help At All; Oh Fortune; Sold; Leaves, Trees, Forest; If I Am Dead; Post War Blues; Basket; Starts With Them, Ends With Us; Road Regrets; How Darwinian; Robots; Rows of Houses; Regarding Death and Dying; Jeopardy.
(encore) The Indie Queens Are Waiting; Fair Verona; Tina's Glorious Comeback; So Much For Everyone.