Dan Mangan gives it all for QE crowd
At the Queen Elizabeth Theatre on Friday, November 9
At one point during Dan Mangan’s Friday night set at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, the bearded, folk-inflected hometown hero made note that his first-ever paid gig took place in the same building a few years earlier, but downstairs at the much more modestly-sized Media Club. He was paid just $25. It cost more to nab a nosebleed seat this evening, but judging by the emphatic response the packed theatre gave Mangan and his crack band of local all-stars, the adoring throng got more than their money’s worth.
Up first, though, was the Rural Alberta Advantage, who also thrilled the hell out of the audience, despite the house sound fudging the mix. Amy Cole's keyboard, for instance, was completely eclipsed by Paul Banwatt’s fervid drum wallops, not to mention her own floor tom, which exploded through the speakers like the 9 o’clock gun at Stanley Park. Regardless, the crowd still connected with peppy indie-rock numbers like “Drain the Blood” and “Stamp”, and gave the opening act the evening’s first of many standing ovations.
As evidenced by last year’s symphonic Oh Fortune, Mangan’s oeuvre has grown considerably from his early singer-songwriter days. His acoustic strumming and gravelly baritone are still the centrepieces of his sound, for sure, but you couldn’t help but notice how awesome the rest of his six-piece band was. The majestic, waltzing chamber pop sound of “About as Helpful as You Can Be Without Being Any Help at All” just wouldn’t be the same without the bountiful brass work of Fond of Tigers member JP Carter, or the supple bow-swinging of avant-garde violinist Jesse Zubot. Humbled by his own backup band, Mangan would occasionally sit out on song segues, leaving drummer Kenton Loewen to ripple skittery free-jazz fills along his kit, or guitarist Gord Grdina to let loose mind-expanding six-string noise.
The multitextured wash of keyboards, strings, and horns proved too much, however, on the wispy “Leaves, Trees, Forest”, which buried the bandleader in its elemental haze. A reprieve from the full-band sound came a few songs later with the heartrending “Basket”, which Mangan dedicated to his grandfather. Earlier, the musician noted that the crowd’s hooting and hollering reminded him of “an alley full of dying cats”, but a hushed awe hung in the air as the troubadour thumbed out his tender acoustic melody and lyrics about the difficulties of aging.
The rabble-rousing spirit returned with the rootsy rocker “Road Regrets”, and especially on cutesy crowd-pleaser “Robots”. As Mangan and the band let into the folky tune, a trickle of five people rushed down the aisles to get a better look, but soon enough scores of fans sent themselves toward the stage to sing along. One kid walked up wearing a homemade cardboard-and-tinfoil robot helmet—Mangan gleefully decapitated the faux-android to wear the costume piece himself.
An encore had Mangan fielding as many requests as he could, though he admitted his catalogue had grown so big that he doesn’t remember how to play all of his songs anymore. Following the local record store-celebrating “The Indie Queens Are Waiting” and the Railway Club–repping “Tina’s Glorious Comeback”, Mangan stepped out across the audience to sing the elegantly reserved “So Much for Everyone”. While standing across the seats of the Queen E., Mangan was wowed at the magnitude of the crowd, but composed himself enough to lead it, not to mention his band and the now stage-bound Rural Alberta Advantage, through one last emphatic chorus of “oh’s”. Despite an admission that he’s bracing himself for a hometown backlash to kick in, there’s clearly still a long, long way to go before Vancouver hucks Mangan out of its heart.