Dan Mangan live at Mercury Lounge, New York
- Oct 18, 2011
Dan Mangan squeezed his eyes shut and threw his head back as he belted out lyrics like a scratchy-voiced balladeer. The Canadian singer/songwriter banged at his acoustic guitar in front of a full crowd, packed in the backroom of Manhattan’s Mercury Lounge.
His voice was full and controlled but by looks alone, Mangan’s more Seth Rogan than Jon Hamm (the Mad Men man). He’s got the quick-lipped commentary to match. "Get real!" shouted a rowdy voice from within the crowd, while Mangan attempted a pun on his Canada Post t-shirt and song 'Post-War Blues'. “It’s never gonna happen, dude,” came Mangan’s reply, unfazed.
Indeed, the west coast folk singer is known to mock his own sappy lyrics. Which you have to be prepared to do when the refrain in your most famous hit is “Robots need love too”. That song is what garnered him international attention, along with being shortlisted for the Polaris Prize, Canada’s top indie music award, last year.
Since the success of last album 'Nice, Nice, Very Nice' Mangan’s sound’s adopted a stronger vibe, more rock than his traditional folk swagger. He’s on the Toronto-based label Arts & Crafts along with artists Feist, Metric and Broken Social Scene. Tuesday’s show was the second to last American stop on tour promoting his third LP 'Oh Fortune'.
Onstage at Mercury Lounge, Mangan donned an unbuttoned Canada Post shirt that would even satisfy the hipster-ironic style of youthful New York. “It’s actually illegal to wear this shirt in Canada,” he admitted after the show, explaining that a friend who works for the Canadian postal service came to one of his gigs and gave it to him when he expressed an interest. That illegal act is about as bold as Mangan typically gets. But he’s not hesitant to make a political statement with his lyrics.
In Post-War Blues, Mangan’s invocation of “starting a war for the kids/a purpose for which to unite” is quickly followed by “what they don’t know, they won’t mind,” which comments on how purposeless modern warfare is. This self-aware wit may well be what makes Mangan’s music ring louder, and last longer in the minds of his fans. His style is more comfortable than iconic, and it’s matched by a humble confidence in his work.
“This is me breaking out of the box,” said Mangan in a recent interview, noting that Oh Fortune was his most “bandy” record. Mangan has shed any limitations of the one-man-band by embracing the potent riffing of guitarist Gordon Grdina, the pulsed drone of bassist John Walsh, and the torrid timekeeping of drummer Kenton Loewen. His new sound’s added depth and complexity is also flexible, as the addition of trumpeter and saxophonist on Mercury Lounge’s garage-style stage was seamless.
The show pushed on with a Mangan classic, 'Road Regrets', with a chorus of echoing fans. While some of the titles off the new album - like 'Regarding Death and Dying' or 'If I am Dead' - suggest lingering melancholy, Mangan’s punchy style and sweaty-faced renditions confirm what many have loved about his work for years: the artistic genius of layered melodies with the slow-building and quick breaking refrains.
As the night neared its end, Mangan decided to take his music 10 steps closer to the people, jumping off the stage - guitar in hand - and slipping to the center of the crowd. His band members followed with instruments at the ready. After climbing a swivel chair, it took two strummed chords and three counts of a lilting drum for the crowd to recognize a favorite: 'Robots'.
Slowly spinning on the chair, Mangan was joined a capella by clapping fans whose voices overpowered the instruments and even Mangan at times. As the refrain chorus repeated - Robots need love too/ they want to be loved by you - slowly fading into the sound of shuffling feet and applause it was almost as if they were singing: "Dan, they want to be loved by you."