Dan Mangan thinks you suck

By in Culture

Dan Mangan in concert
Arts Writer

“Some of the song writing is dealing with fairly large issues,” Dan Mangan said of his most recent album, Nice, Nice, Very Nice, “but doing it in a way that’s kind of with a grin on your face, kind of tongue-in-cheek — audio photographs of silly human characteristics, kind of.”

Mangan’s second and most recent release kept some of the self-deprecating ideas that were prevalent in his first album, Postcards and Daydreaming, but spun them by including more humour. Mangan described the shift as an acknowledgement of the faults inherent in being human.

“I really get a kick out of people,” he added, “so I think it’s just kind of nice to be able to put some of that observational ridiculousness into song.”

His statements echoed what many people like of Kurt Vonnegut’s writing, which is a fitting comparison — Mangan took the title of his second album from Vonnegut’s book Cat’s Cradle and he claims Vonnegut as an influence on his work. Mangan said he admires the way Vonnegut articulates “the insanity of all of this.”

“I think he’s the master at poking fun at human beings,” Mangan said, “and meanwhile he wasn’t looking down on anybody. He was able to do it from a sense of justice . . . . The album title was a bit of an ode to him because he died a few years ago and I think he was one of the great minds of the 20th century.”

Another artist Mangan said he holds in esteem is B.C. based spoken word poet Shane Koyczan, with whom Mangan has collaborated and become friends. The two met when Mangan performed in Koyczan’s hometown of Penticton, B.C., to a crowd of about eight people. Mangan says he finds it amazing how Koyczan can hold an audience captive merely by speaking.

“He just talks,” he said. “It’s magnificent to behold.”

During the late ’90s and early 2000s Koyczan was a pioneer of Vancouver’s spoken word scene, which Mangan commented on with some admiration.

Before leaving to catch a quick pre-show nap, Mangan ran through some of the craziest moments of his tour: just a few nights before he and the band had been in a log sauna at Falcon Lake, Man., and then jumped into the freezing water of the lake before running back to the sauna. This was probably a questionable idea since Mangan had just recently gotten over what he assumes was a bout of H1N1 in Charlottetown, which explained why every joke ended in a chuckle-turned-cough.

“That’s kinda like the album’s thesis statement: we all suck.”
-Dan Mangan on his newest album

“I got to the Econo Lodge and just slept for 54 straight hours,” he said.

The band also experienced some group setbacks: during the first leg of the tour the band was almost run over by a train; upright bass player Mike left his luggage in Fargo, N.D., and had to have it sent by bus to Toronto; and the group lost Erin the violinist in Toronto while they had her cell phone.

With all the headaches involved, one might assume that the second-last show of the tour would see a rather bedraggled Mangan short on stage banter. But his voice, which has the whiskey-soaked, cigarette-smoke-drenched charm of a 1920s blues singer’s, sounds just as good after a month-long tour as it does after a round of studio touch-ups, as the audience at Amigos learned on Oct. 29.

Despite the fact that the show was near the end of a Canada-wide tour and that he will be moving on to Europe for a six-week tour just two days after getting home to Vancouver, Mangan was a lively performer who acquiesced to audience requests for songs he had not played in over a year and led the audience in a clap-and sing-along.

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photo: Matthew Stefanson