Starting the night was a very short set from Calgary's Astral Swans. Matthew Swann was on stage for about 15 minutes, alone with his guitar (and a bit of a nervous energy) playing songs off his album All My Favourite Singers Are Willie Nelson, which was released on Madic Records, a label Dan started specifically to release this album.
Songs like "You Carry A Sickness" and "Attention", were powered by his haunting voice, and in keeping with the name of his album, he also did a cover of a Willie Nelson song, "Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain". It sounding somewhere in between the psych-folk of the rest of his set, and the country twang of Willie.
It was a short but sweet set.
There was almost no changeover time before Hayden came out with his band. Honestly, I never really got into Hayden's music and the only other time I had seen him live was a set at the Vancouver Folk Fest main stage, the bright and sunny beach not really a good setting for the sadder songs he was playing. So I was interested in seeing him play in what was certainly a more suitable venue.
The set was a collection of alt-rock songs, many of which started softer before building to an intense ending, that spanned his career, going back to the 90s. At one point the band took leave for Hayden to play the heartfelt "Bad As They Seem", off his debut album Everything I Long For.
Hayden also went from guitar to take a seat behind the keys for "Bass Song", one of the highlights of the set for me, which built into an absolutely chaotic ending. Other highlights included the set-ending "Dynamite Walls", and "Hollywood Ending", where they were joined by JP Carter on trumpet for a song that broke down a little at the end, finishing with Hayden laughing at some on stage antics -- which they joked about after, the band in very high spirits.
Along those lines, Hayden flashed a dry, self-deprecating humour a few times, certainly most evident when he drolly exclaimed something along the lines of "This could be the best your life gets" before pausing for a moment to reflect, and adding "I fucking hope not"
But ultimately, while I can certainly respect his talent, the set didn't really do anything to convert me. Still just, not my thing.
And finally, Dan Mangan + Blacksmith arrived to moody lighting and the intro to the first song from Club Meds blasting through the speakers. They kicked right into "Offred" for a set that mostly focused on that album, and their previous Oh, Fortune. In fact, there was only one older song in the main set, and that was when the "new" sound the band had was most evident, during the ending of "Road Regrets" as it soared into a giant finale.
There were also a few opportunities for the members of Blacksmith to shine, as if to hammer the point home that they were a band now, not just Dan solo with some other guys. Guitarist Gord Grdina took over vocals on "A Doll's House", a distorted trumpet solo from JP lead into "Pretty Good Joke", and a phenomenal drum solo from Kenton Loewen brought the house down as it lead into the fierce "Post-War Blues".
But of course, some things didn't change. Dan still told a few stories and jokes -- and playfully bickered with Gord -- throughout the set, and the whole band still had a great stage presence and chemistry together.
Other highlights included my two favourite songs from the new album, "Forgettery" and the fast paced & frantic "Mouthpiece", before the set drew to an end, appropriately enough, with the final song off Club Meds, "New Skies".
There's no way that was going to be all, though, as Dan came back out alone and poked a little fun at the whole tradition of the encore (though also admitting it did feel pretty good). The theatre hushed for an incredible performance of "Basket", perhaps the only song from Nice Nice Very Nice that resembled its original, since it was just Dan on his acoustic, his gruff voice buckling with emotion.
As the rest of the band came back out, they asked the crowd what to play, before setting on "Fair Verona", and a song that Dan admitted they hadn't really been playing on this tour, the fan favourite singalong "Robots" (I assume he would have been run out of town if he didn't at least play it it in Vancouver) which had the whole crowd singing along, naturally, as well as Astral Swans and Hayden -- and at one point Gord's young daughter even joined them on the microphone.
But even that wasn't quite enough, as they played one last song, a completely reworked rendition of "Sold", the frantic song slowed way down to something that more resembled a ballad, as Dan reunited The Granville Street Choir to sing along and draw the night to a close.
It was the end of the tour, hometown show, and everyone was excited to be there; on stage and in the crowd. I've really been liking the new album from the band, and this was really my first chance to witness them really play it live. And it did not disappoint.
Offred; Vessel; Starts With Them, Ends With Us; Leaves, Trees, Forrest; Post-War Blues; Road Regrets; Pretty Good Joke; Forgettery; A Doll's House; Mouthpiece; Rows of Houses; Kitsch; New Skies.
Basket; Fair Verona; Robots; Sold.