It takes quite a bit to get me to voluntarily go to church. After a mildly stressful day at the office, the notion of leaving the house and standing in a line of indie-hipsters that snakes around two blocks of downtown Edmonton on one of the coldest days so-far this year, was even less appealing.
But as my weary bones sunk into a second floor pew and warmth settled into my skin I started to appreciate that this place of worship wasn’t really that strange of a place to listen to music. In fact, aside from the stained glass windows and the giant organ behind the stage McDougall United Church reminded me of one of my favourite places of musical worship Massey Hall. Both built over a century ago and aiming for optimum acoutics they’re designed to make sure that even the person in the very back corner of the balcony is moved (they also have similarly hard, old, wooden seats that make your butt hurt after sitting for an extended period of time - though Massey had the sense to replace their orchestra level seats with lovely padded ones).
Dan Mangan’s 2009 album Nice, Nice, Very Nice has been such a favourite of mine that it has a place of honour in my vehicle as one of my “go to” discs. I have to admit that until the show I haven’t really given his new album Oh Fortune much of a chance. Not because it isn’t great but because there’s something warm and snuggly about familiar tunes.
As beautiful as his folksy melodies play in my car on the chilly autumn afternoon they get a whole new dimension played live. As if knowing I needed a push into the new record Mangan started the show the same way he started the album with “About as Helpful as You Can Be Without Being Any Help at All” swelling with ambient, organized noise before crashing into the waltzy melody.
Both feet together
Always in Time
Don’t count the feathers
Just count the wings
I almost forgot it
But then I remembered
Weaving his way through tunes from both records he made me sit up and listen to the new tunes I’d been avoiding since Oh Fortune was plopped into my mailbox weeks ago and breathed new life into tunes from Nice that I already loved.
Pausing occasionally to chat up his inspiration he talked about how the muse for the song “Basket” was his grandfather. As he elaborated I realized you can listen to a song a hundred songs and never really get it. Last night as I watched Dan Mangan pluck this song out on this acoustic guitar, I heard it, for what felt like the first time.
And as he launched into the beautiful tune of fighting to hold onto yourself as time slips away it touched a chord in my young heart. And I wished quietly to myself that if I ever get to a place where I start to slip away that I make sure to remember - I’m not a wasted puzzle piece.
But the highlight of the show was the encore. After ignoring several requests from the crowd to play his most popular tune “Robots” he finally launched into the tune for his final encore (I mean seriously people, did you really think he was going to skip it?)
He started the tune to a round of applause as the crowd recognized the opening bars and began to sing along to the rousing final encore. And just as the tune swelled to the final chorus Mangan jumped off of the stage with his microphone stand and requested that the crowd to stand up and sing along. And we gladly obliged. At one point Mangan was straddling two pews and strumming away on his guitar as a chorus of voices sang “Robots need love too, they want to be loved to you” at the top of their lungs. As the house lights came on Mangan successfully conducted the pseudo-congregation through the final chorus and to the end of the final word. And as the song wrapped up as every member of the sold out crowd burst into applause.
And as I floated home on a cloud of musical happiness, ears ringing slightly, I was glad I dragged my butt out on this chilly fall evening. And as my affection for the artist bubbled I realized my affection for the venue was growing too.
I guess going to church isn’t so bad after all.