What can you say about an act like Spookyland? The young singer-songwriter certainly has a way with words and knows his way around a guitar, but it's really hard to shake the fact that... well, he's a bit of a weirdo. Blending the seriously strange with the strangely serious, Spookyland – aka Marcus Gordon – chopped his way through a series of Dylan-esque ramblings with a mewling voice that tip-toed a fine line between quirky and just plain irritating. It was a line Gordon disregarded often, almost becoming unbearable to listen to by the end of the set. Credit where credit's due, however – he was able to hold the attention of all present with one lengthy number, “The Ballad of the Dead Doctor.” The twists and turns of the plot were churned out in gritty detail, becoming all the more deranged as the song went on. The rest of his set may have been decidedly hit and miss, but at least for a moment this peculiar creature had our attention.
Despite his rushed trip from Sydney resulting in his tardiness, Andy Bull was in fine spirit as he made his return to the Heritage Hotel. Opening the set with a warm, organ-based cover of The Shins' “New Slang,” Bull went on to discuss what it is he loves about the song with the audience – to him, it's a perfect mix of happiness and melancholy, neither of which seem forced. He then proceeded to showcase his very own attempts at finding that perfect balance. Performing alongside Slow Down Honey vocalist/guitarist Alex Bennison, the two complemented one another wonderfully, with blends of both piano and guitar as well as their two voices joining up smoothly. This was especially clear on tracks like “Last Waltz” and the alt-radio staple “Dog”, which saw the trade-off of Bennison's upbeat electric strumming following the lead of Andy's keys. A closing number from the forthcoming second album, “When the Penny Drops” wrapped things up on a high note – this should be a very good year for one of Australia's most underrated singer-songwriters.
Canadian troubadour Dan Mangan looks out at his audience with a cheeky grin. “I just realised”, he comments, “that nearly every single person in this room is someone from a previous gig of mine”. This wryly funny observation brought two things to our attention – firstly, that not nearly enough people had come to pay Dan and his band a visit on this lazy Sunday evening; and secondly, that there was a damn fine reason that each of us kept coming back to see him. Mangan may come from a long line of charming Canadian folk-rockers, but his rapport with his audience, no matter how big or small, is a bond that is too hard to break.
Having been on the road practically non-stop since Wednesday, the wear and tear was beginning to show on Dan, but you'd be damned if the man wasn't going to give us his best. With the band breathing new life into favourites like the knee-slapping “Sold” and the romantic tragedy of “Fair Verona”, the evening felt as though we could have watched the quartet all night – and applauded loudly after every single song, too. His body of work is a masterclass in songwriting. Mangan's voice can shift from the serene to the shattering within seconds, swelling his emotion about until the proverbial tide turns within his songs. His band – guitarist Gord Grdina, double bassist John Walsh and drummer Kenton Loewen – feed the dynamics of the song further; switching up “Road Regrets” from tender introspection to driving reckless abandon; as well as moving new song “Post War Blues” from a pulsing beat to a high-speed romp. Also of note was the band's humour, constantly interacting with the audience and joking about everything from Bryan Adams to the ability to laugh without smiling. Definitely a lot of fun was had with these high-spirited Canadians, some in Australia for the very first time and hopefully not for the last.
Closing with his quintissential singalong, “Robots”, Dan came off the stage immediately and started chatting with his audience, happily conversing, signing CDs and taking photos. That alone is the difference that separates Mangan from his contemporaries – while they have fans, Dan will always go the extra mile in order to make a friend at his shows. Don't you think it's about time you got acquainted?