Dan Mangan and Blacksmith, Hayden at Massey Hall


DAN MANGAN + BLACKSMITH and HAYDEN at Massey Hall, Saturday, February 28. Rating: NNN

Having played Massey Hall just over four months ago, local folk-rock kingpin Hayden appeared calm and poised as he took the stage and worked his way through a set of old standards and new tracks from his upcoming release Hey Love. His dour sense of humour was constantly on display, prefacing a premiere of a new song with a story of a husband who tricks his wife into spending time with him in a bomb shelter – all in the name of emotional closeness.

He managed a perfect balance between scrappy up-tempo numbers with him on guitar, such as Trees Lounge, and introspective tracks with him seated at the piano. Woody, his classic tale of a man and his cat, was unassuming but enlightening in its sweeping acoustic grandeur and poignant in its breakdown of the simplistic sadness we all experience with the changing of the seasons.

Hayden revealed more of his personal life, including stories about his non-verbal young daughter, and it was difficult to keep a dry eye before No Happy Birthday. Bass Song was as chilling as it ever was, complete with a frantic, rousing and delightfully off-key waltz of a finale.

In a direct contrast to Hayden’s understated manner, Dan Mangan and Blacksmith employed much more of a theatrical approach to his set. Mangan seems to have embraced his role as an Indie 88 mainstay, utilizing slick production through the heavily-orchestrated Vessel. But whereas Hayden seemed perfectly underwhelmed on the legendary stage, Mangan struggled to settle in.

His stage banter, particularly the long-winded tale before Starts With Them, Ends With Us, seemed forced. There were moments, sure, that Mangan and Blacksmith shone: Leaves, Trees, Forest rose beautifully and showcased the depth that the band is capable of. And Road Regrets sounded powerful but the efforts Mangan made to embrace a more unfiltered sonic voice only landed a few times. Blacksmith followed up Road Regrets with an ill-fitted and awkward trumpet solo from JP Carter.

Mangan and Blacksmith are making every effort to break the cuddly, nice guy-rock tag that has followed them with darker, more haunting tracks. And more power to him. But the strange turns his set took, particularly throughout tracks from Club Meds, his latest, often felt more like distractions than intriguing ventures.

The once engaging performer had too serious a mood throughout the evening only when he appeared solo during the encore boasting a gigantic smile to play a delicate Basket did the entire crowd become engaged.

The two singer-songwriters were a study in contrasts: one artist in the reflective, perhaps comfortable stage in his career while the other intensely trying to discover his voice and exploring every alley, meandering or not, his songs took him.

music@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto



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