Vancouver indie artist Dan Mangan has created one of the most intimate and unpredictable tours out there – the Madic House Concerts. Instead of booking shows at typical live music venues, Mangan has created a tour that brings musicians into people’s homes. Talk about knocking down the fourth wall, this tour allows fans the chance to hang out with the artists before and after the show, witness performances in their own homes and even host sleepovers for the travelling musicians. It’s about as indie as you get. Mangan is taking the simple act of sharing an artistic moment and making it as personal and honest as possible. His concept of the Madic House Concerts is to create meaningful and memorable experiences for both the audience and the artists.
The Madic House Concerts is a cross-country tour that began at the beginning of October and will end in Mangan’s home city of Vancouver at the end of the month. Headlining the tour is Calgary indie artist Astral Swans, the solo project of experimental pop musician Matthew Swann. Astral Swans is the first artist to be signed by Mangan to his indie record label Madic Records. Mangan formed Madic Records in 2014 in partnership with Toronto-based indie label Arts & Crafts after he fell in love with the music of the then-unsigned Astral Swans. Starting a record label was something he had contemplated for some time but his desire to help propel Astral Swans to a wider audience sparked the formation of Madic Records. Astral Swans’ stark, contemplative music is the kind of experience that you want to be up front and connected to – the perfect artist for the intimacy of the Madic House Concerts. (Read Chillin’ Out, Maxin’, Relaxin’ All Cool with Astral Swans | The SBTS Interview for stories about Astral Swans’ unpredictable tour and being signed by Dan Mangan)
Joining Matthew Swann on the tour is singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Distance Bullock (Port Juvee) who contributed drums, backing vocals and cello to Astral Swans’ 2015 album All My Favorite Singers are Willie Nelson. After beginning the tour in their home city of Calgary, the two musicians have played shows across the country in a variety of settings including old Victorian homes, rural artist community retreat centres, converted churches and keg parties. Last Sunday, Astral Swans played their Toronto tour date in a three-level house decked out with sound equipment in the Junction. As the house began to fill up with hipsters, hip hop and whiffs of weed, Astral Swans hung out in the basement drinking beers and chatting about the unpredictability of the tour. Swann laughed at the fact that “they’ve all been really different. Last night I played in Bancroft in an artist residency space in this community in the middle of nowhere with artists who were mostly 40 plus. Then tonight, it’s like a college house party where everyone is sitting around an X Box right now.” Bullock added, “Within the first three shows I think we saw like every variety of show. The first, Calgary, was the typical 25 to 30-year-old fan base, full hometown show and then Edmonton was an early character house with a young professional couple that was like, sit down, shut up, very quiet, very respectful. And then the next night, Regina was like a full-blown kegger house party where someone had a half pound of mushrooms. You never know until you get there.”
In the spontaneous spirit of the tour, the Toronto concert began with a surprise set by Jay McCarrol (Brave Shores, Hayden) who happened to be another favourite musician of the hosts. McCarrol set the tone of the night with an endearing set of solo songs and finished with an incredible Elliott Smith cover.
As joints were lit and beers were guzzled, Astral Swans captivated the houseguests with a combination of humorous banter and one raw, gripping tune after another. Set up in a corner of the living room, they faced a small crowd of listeners who huddled around the band and quietly absorbed Swann’s often disarming and heavy lyrical themes. At the end of every song they eagerly cheered for more. After playing a collection of songs from All My Favorite Singers are Willie Nelson and a cover of Wolf Parade’s “You Are a Runner And I Am My Father’s Son”, the audience demanded a premature encore at Swann’s announcement of their final song.
After the show, Swann stated that it was their rowdiest crowd yet. But even an audience itching to party was held captive by the fragile intensity of Astral Swans. It was an experience that delivered exactly what Mangan intended the tour provide – a memorable and meaningful encounter between fan and artist. Astral Swans described how special this tour has been: “The best shows are house shows. [Typical] tours can be monotonous after a while and it kind of flatlines. It’s like, ‘Remember that show in Boston?’ ‘No…’ It’s just another show at another venue with the same band but then, always, the house shows are the memories that stick out in your head. To have an entire tour of that is pretty badass. There are so many specific details of every show so far that stand out whereas if we were playing a bunch of bars it would just be like, whatever, it’s just another night in a club. This is all very personal, very intimate and there’s a lot of distinguishing factors of every place we’ve been that usually just get lost.”
Reflecting on his experience with the tour so far, Swann said, “I think I’m only going to do tours like this. In Canada, anyway. It works for me. I like playing in a bar when I’m playing in a rock band but my objective as a musician is not ‘bigger is better’ and ‘I need to be famous and sell a million albums.’ I just want to have a sustainable, humble artistic practice where I can continue to make records. That’s what I want.” Once Astral Swans wrap up the first Madic House Concerts tour, Mangan hopes to continue the concept with other artists.
Check out our interview with Dan Mangan about his passion project, Madic Records, and the future of the Madic House Concerts.
Where did the idea for house concerts come from? Have you ever done a concert in someone’s house before? If so, what was the experience like?
Dan Mangan: Yeah we’ve done a bunch. Especially in the beginning. They have potential to go pear shaped like any other show, but they also bring a special kind of community intimacy. It feels like you’re dipping your toes in the culture of that particular neighbourhood within a city, and sharing a beer with a slice of folks. Sometimes, it’s nice to perform without any amplification. The nice thing is that often you can crash with the hosts, and it makes touring very social – you end up with new friends. And it keeps costs down – you’re not dishing out hundreds of dollars a night in hotels.
With the Madic Records House Concert Series tour going from coast to coast across Canada and in settings that vary from rural to major city dwellings, what elements or experiences do you think will remain consistent throughout each concert? What are the challenges of this sort of tour?