Show Review: Dan Mangan at Cafe 939

Award-winning Vancouver-based singer-songwriter Dan Mangan made an appearance at Cafe 939 on March 13, promoting his new album More or Less.

Mangan, who has been coming out with indie folk hit after hit since the mid-2000s, brought a more intimate, stripped-down feel to the Red Room. He didn’t really have a rigid setlist, instead he used a scrap of paper towel with several of his songs scribbled onto it in marker as a frame of reference for what songs he could play, and he had nothing to really back himself musically except his own guitar. While this did limit what songs he could play slightly, with a fair part of his repertoire having a certain level of bombast that could be difficult to capture with a simple acoustic setup, the show being set up that way felt very humble. You could tell that everyone in the room was having a very personal experience.

To me, the concert felt like a conversation or a literal “evening with” just as much as it felt like a performanceDan spent a lot of time in between songs sharing his experiences and background to his music and it felt like every song he played had a story behind it. For example, “Jude” was a song he wrote for his son, and to go along with that, he shared his experience writing it for the film Hector and The Search for Happiness.

It was in these moments that Dan’s personality and wit really shone through – in between little quips about the cold he’d caught (and the strong ginger tea he’d brewed to treat it) were genuine moments of insight in which he’d share parts of his deeply profound worldview and life philosophy. Those moments, of course, always came back around to his music, and often became intermixed with his unique brand of humor (notably, I remember him saying “time for another very happy song that’s about warmongering and PTSD!” in reference to the song “Post-War Blues”).

All in all, the show felt very personal. It felt as if we were truly getting a glimpse of what goes on in Dan’s head, and it really felt like we were all gathered together as his close friends. This feeling was reinforced when, for his last couple songs, Dan decided to go offstage and sang in the middle of the room on top of a pivoting desk chair with the audience in a circle around him. Of course, this being Berklee, everyone sang “Robots” and “So Much for Everyone” together, and even harmonized some parts! There was a very real and tangible sense of togetherness and community that Dan brought into the room, which felt incredibly special.

Dan’s new album is called More or Less, and if you’re a fan of introspective indie folk, I highly recommend you give it a listen. It’s easy to see why he’s become a household name in Canada.

Kysan Kwan