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Dan Mangan + Blacksmith perform at The Playhouse with stellar supporting cast

The last time that Dan Mangan played in Fredericton, it was a solo performance at Wilmot United Church. It was the fall of 2012, and Mangan had been promoting the release of his 2011 album, Oh Fortune. The album would go on to win the Juno Award for Alternative Album of the Year and help expand the musician’s fan base.

On Feb. 19, Mangan returned to Fredericton, this time at The Playhouse with his full band, Blacksmith, and in promotion of their new release, Club Meds. Instead of an intimate and bare bones performance like that of 2012, the band incorporated fog machines with a light show, making it at times feel like the concert should have been in the Air Canada Centre and not the 700-seat Playhouse.

Though the presentation was far more over the top than expected, it reflected the music that the band was playing. The new album features an electronic side that had not even been a thought on previous records, and the complexities of the songs and the tremendous musicianship of the band made the show more of a production.

Dan Mangan + Blacksmith walked out as silhouettes clouded in smoke to perform their first song of the night, “Offred.” Matthew Swann opened the evening as Astral Swans. From Calgary, Swann released All My Favourite Singers Are Willie Nelson on Mangan’s Madic Records on Feb. 24.

Alone on stage, Swann played his Stratocaster as if it were a bass. Sticking to the lower chords on his guitar and simply strumming or plucking away, he sang songs off his new album as well as a cover of Willie Nelson himself. People were still finding their seats as he played, but he didn’t seem to mind, and by the time he finished his set and made way for Hayden and his band, The Playhouse was mostly full and ready to applaud even if they hadn’t heard a song.

While the solo set of Astral Swans was enhanced by the venue, so were the sounds of Hayden. With a full backing band where members rotated between different instruments, the acoustics in The Playhouse allowed for a clear sounding performance.

Hayden, like Astral Swans and Dan Mangan + Blacksmith, had new music to share as well. The band performed the recently released “Hey Love” for the first time, while also covering some of the Ontario artists old material such as “Woody,” a song he wrote about his cat in 2004.

The three acts began the tour the night before, on Feb. 18 in Halifax, and there were times that it was clear they were still getting comfortable with the songs they were playing. At one point, Hayden and his backing band had to stop and restart, at another, Mangan admitted that he had played the entire song in the wrong key, and often times the audience could hear someone on stage asking who was supposed to begin the song.

Despite all this, the crowd was eager for music and even if there desire for songs like “Robots” was not fulfilled, the performance put forward by Mangan, Hayden and Astral Swans has been one of the musical highlights of 2015 in Fredericton.

The tour has moved on from the east, with stops throughout Canada, the United States and Europe scheduled over the next couple of months. By the time the string of shows is complete, the songs played and speeches in between will become engraved in the performers. Some fans will still expect flannel-wearing Mangan with nothing more than an acoustic guitar when they go and see him perform, but he has moved on from that. Only time will tell what Mangan’s next performance in Fredericton will be like.

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