Published Nov 10, 2011Fleet Foxes are pleasant, but their persistent harmonies and unsurprising song structures can turn their melodies into lullabies. This is not so with Wisconsin trio the Daredevil Christopher Wright. Featuring the collective efforts of percussionist Jesse Edgington and brothers Jon and Jason Sunde, their rich three-part harmonies are used in strikingly different ways in each song, with the timbre and arrangement changing from track to track. A couple interludes were purely vocal, and they even allowed a little room for atonal experimentation, breaking out of a driving folk tune to have Jason play some dissonant tones while Jon and Edgington messed around with extended technique on the acoustic guitar and drums, respectively, before hitting right back on the next verse as a team, full steam.
While their sound evokes Simon & Garfunkel in the prime they never had, their stage presence is what made the Daredevil Christopher Wright truly endearing. Jon lovingly remarked on the size of his six-month-old cousin's massive head, claiming it to be in the 99th percentile, while Edgington sheepishly mumbled like Garth from Wayne's World when he was thrust in the spotlight, letting loose the secret that, despite his beard, no one in the band was a daredevil or even named Christopher. It's refreshing to see people who can play so dynamically act so humble, honest and self-deprecating.
It was clear to see why Dan Mangan was charging almost $50 a ticket as soon as he took the stage. Coming out to Link Wray's immortal instrumental "Rumble" with an upright bassist, drummer, trumpeter, pianist and an electric guitarist, Mangan and his acoustic guitar were also joined by a nine-piece orchestra (two violins, clarinet, flute, French horn, trombone, trumpet, sax and the incomparable cello of Peggy Lee). This was a rock show of epic proportions.
Where his Polaris Music Prize shortlisted Nice, Nice, Very Nice from 2009 was all folksy indie pop, released care of the small but plucky File Under: Music label, Mangan has truly embraced all the benefits that signing to Arts & Crafts can bring. Granted, the 15 musicians onstage did occasionally fall a little into the realm of cacophony, but for the most part, the ensemble worked well as it breathed new life into some of Mangan's earlier work, and killed everything off his latest opus Oh Fortune.
Mangan's lyrics have evolved as much as his sound, moving from cutesy topics like robots needing love to more socially aware themes like post-traumatic stress disorder, where the poor are sent to fight and come back still poor yet saddled with immense psychic baggage, as he would explain before launching into "Post-War Blues."
The sound and lyrics reflected his growing ambition and maturity, yet Mangan's sense of whimsy and joy at his achievements could barely be concealed. He rocked and walked around stage addressing all of his fellow musicians as he passionately strummed his guitar. He gave a grin big enough to see from the back row as he confessed his love for his hometown of Vancouver and expressed gratitude that his childhood dream of playing the stunning Orpheum Theatre had come true.
Mangan rolled with catcalls from the crowd with class, politely declining one guy's offer to take his two children, and returning shouts of adoration. To be sure, Dan Mangan is a main-stage performer now, but he doesn't act like it. He's still that guy you wouldn't mind dating your sister.