A few songs into Dan Mangan’s set, a fan jokingly called out from the back, ordering Mangan to play a song that wasn’t sad.
Mangan took this in jest, laughing, then giving his response without missing a beat: “you’re at the wrong show.”
This interaction just about summed up what a Dan Mangan show entails. Although Mangan himself remains light-hearted and upbeat, the songs he performed — spanning years of his history as a musician — contain personal lyrics that are deeply moving and are consistently performed with fervour and warmth.
On November 20, Mangan brought the magic of his live show to St. Catharines, taking the stage at the FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre.
Toronto based band Ocean Potion kicked off the night. What to expect from this band was evident from appearance alone, as they were clad in short wigs that they refused to acknowledge until a few songs in. Ocean Potion’s set was made up of woozy psychedelic rock, their feel-good live sound placing the audience in a dreamlike trance.
“In the Grass” was a highlight from their set. It’s a bittersweet, nostalgic song with a hazy sound. Live, this song is stripped of the weight the synths carry in the recorded version, but the characteristic warmth of an Ocean Potion song still rings through.
After a handful of Ocean Potion songs, Mangan and his band took the stage. Mangan has a unique stage presence; he does not command ownership of the stage like artists are often complimented for doing. Mangan comes across too humble and reserved to do so. However, this is not at all a detriment to Mangan’s live show — in fact, it’s his strength.
Mangan has a quiet confidence about him, his restrained stage presence creates the atmosphere for a more intimate show. His inclination to audience participation and occasional in-between songs featuring just him and his guitar — no backup band in sight — add to this.
While Mangan’s band won over the crowd the same way Mangan himself did, he was at his best and most powerful solo. In the stripped down versions of his songs, Mangan’s talent was put on full display. His voice filled the room, laced with ardor. With only Mangan to watch and his lyricism to hold onto, his passion was evident, dripping from every lyric that spilled from his mouth.
He performed a number of songs solo — some of which were requested, although he seemed more than happy to make room amongst those he had rehearsed to satisfy his fans. This included a soulful cover of R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion”, which brought a relaxed hush over the audience.
His best was when he got to acoustic track “Basket”, a song about aging sure to tug on heartstrings. The importance of this song was notable in the sheer might of his vocal power, intensifying in only the perfect moments.
To close off the show, Mangan surprised the audience by welcoming non-profit youth choir Tomorrow’s Voices onto the stage to perform two songs with him. It was deeply heartfelt; even after they had wrapped up their time within the show, Mangan attempted to pull them back on stage for an additional song.
The grand finale featured Mangan heading out into the centre of the audience and climbing on a chair to rise above them. With a light in hand, he commanded the room be dimmed. The glow radiating from his light wasn’t the only thing illuminating the room, as he then requested the audience stand and chime in as his backing choir, a unifying and uplifting experience for those involved.
It’s clear a lot of heart goes into a Dan Mangan concert, from the way he wills his fans to participate to his clear dedication to the music to begin with. Should he come back to St. Catharines, he’s one to watch out for.