Review: Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, Thekla

28 April 2015

Vancouver-based Dan Mangan has been plying his singer-songwriter trade for some time now. Releasing his first full-length Postcards & Daydreaming in 2005, it wasn’t until 2009’s Nice, Nice, Very Nice (a title taken from Kurt Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle) that his melancholic music reached a wider audience.

His latest release, Club Meds, is the first to give equal billing to his backing band Blacksmith, and a fine move it is too. Blacksmith, the four-piece band, provide a wall of noise that is both bombastic and intricate, with a particular highlight being a heavily distorted trumpet backing. The album also benefits from being a slow-burner, taking a couple of listens to get into it’s dark nature and Mangan’s thoughtful lyricism. 

Tonight’s gig is given a poignant touch by it being Mangan’s birthday – for which drummer Kenton Loewen provides the band for a round of on-stage shots – and the man himself is in cheery mood. Singing with dual microphones, standout track ‘Offred’ makes powerful use of the aforementioned distorted trumpet, as well as a beautiful guitar coda. ‘Vessel’ continues in similar form, with clever callback lyrics and churning guitar riff.

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With a sideline in penning columns for The Guardian and Huffington Post, Mangan has a neat way with words , and he has written of his desire to use his voice as an extra instrument. Instead of laying vocals on top of a backing track, Mangan has tried different ways of mixing and affecting his voice. He has also been keen to point out that while Club Meds is more of a ‘band’ album than his previous work, the lyrics remain personal, and are indeed loquacious and quite poetic.

I understand that sometimes we all must dance with fuckery;

but everybody’s pissing in the well of our suffering.


Mangan’s linguistic contortions are not limited to his songwriting. In pronouncing Thekla as “Thek-Lah”, a member of the band mutters “that’s Klingon, right?”. “I’m always clinging on to something”, Mangan retorts immediately. The only shame for the gig – which comes complete with an excellent Whiplash-style drum solo from Loewen – is that the crowd is sparser than such an accomplished outfit deserve. Nevertheless, those present are demonstrably steadfast fans of Mangan, and they have latched on to a fine musician indeed.

Conal Dougan