It’s rare, but sometimes when you hear a recorded artist, you can sense a genuineness and sweetness about them, but there’s no guarantee that they are actually that winsome in real life. Except for Dan Croll. From recordings to live performances to interacting with his fans, he’s a through-and-through sweetheart, as he showed us all last night at Bowery Ballroom.
No one in the crowd knew anything about the opener, Panama Wedding (who sounded like a mix of Vampire Weekend and a mature Cayucas.) With only one single out, there wasn’t much to discover beforehand even if you tried. Surprisingly, the band had a full album in them! Moreover, each song had its own character that the crowd could latch on to in only one listen. At the risk of sounding like a music snob, I will say that their single “All of the People” is probably my least favorite song of their set, (Look forward to more music from Panama Wedding in June.) Sonically, they matched Dan Croll very well; it’s always appreciated when the opener and headliner are cohesive.
They cleared out the monitors at the front of the stage, and turned on warm, yellow, silhouetting lights for Dan’s set, giving it a very comforting and homey atmosphere. His first song was unreleased “Hello My Baby” – a song that Dan recorded with the Ladysmith Black Mambazo choir. During the next two songs, “Thinkinaboutchu” and “Wanna Know”, I got sidetracked by the bassist who was pulling the gnarliest faces. Dan’s songs aren’t technically thrilling or showy, but the careful attention that each member paid to their respective instruments made for a perfect allover sound. The ironic “Wanna Know” is a great example, where they seemed to play it more slowly to a richer effect live.
The poppier single “In/Out” actually achieved something akin to a rock vibe with the parallel bass and guitar riffs and smashing drums near the end. Midway through the set, Dan played an exclusive song called “Ever At Your Side”, another song for Record Store Day recorded with Ladysmith Black Mambazo. For the next song, “Must Be Leaving”, John (bass) and Jethro (guitar) joined David on drums which gave the song a strong percussive undercurrent.
“This is the only song on the record my Mum doesn’t like”, Dan explains before playing “Can You Hear Me”, citing its “nasty” (from mom’s perspective) rap influence. But it’s just that influence – on the bass and drums especially – that makes it the funkiest song on Sweet Disarray. His last song pre-encore was the acoustic-y and nostalgic “Home” that the crowd knew well. He of course had to come back for the encoreto play his radio single “From Nowhere” featuring some epic bass (thanks to John. I really like that John fellow.)
When I talked with Dan last October [interview here], he discussed his stage banter, “I love chattin’ to an audience whilst on stage. I almost like to take it a little bit awkward just to get people involved.” At this show, he talked between most songs, asking the crowd about how their days were, thanking them for coming, just inviting them in to his performance. After “From Nowhere”, Dan had to take a bit to tune his guitar, so he gave the chatting floor over to his painfully shy keyboardist, Jacob. A young woman in the crowd yelled out that it was her birthday, so Dan invited her up on stage and volunteered Jacob to sing her happy birthday. Blushed, voice pitch rising to squeak levels, the poor guy looked like he just wanted to disappear. The crowd helped him out in singing her a happy birthday, and the tech guys had the good humor to get the disco ball spinning. To top it all off, the young lady then crowd surfed back to her spot. Sheesh, I wish it had been my birthday.
After tuning up his guitar, Dan left us with his lost song – an ode to his grandma – “Sweet Disarray”; a beautiful ending to a warm and gracefully paced show. It’s a barren song with essentially just an acoustic guitar. Dan and the boys sang impeccable four-part harmonies throughout the show, but especially on this track. It’s simple songs like these that allow a glimpse into the heart of Dan Croll’s music, and perhaps the man himself. (That was a bit much.)
Dan invited the crowd to grab a beer with him and chat after the show. A lot of people actually did take him for his word and hung around to meet him. When we finally got to talk to him, he was very sweet with us, just like any other regular Joe (or Dan) you’d meet at a show. You’d never suspect you were talking to an accomplished graduate of the Liverpool Arts Institute who’s performed for Sir Paul McCartney, and who has appeared onstage with the likes of Bastille, London Grammar, and Imagine Dragons. He didn’t shoo us along or press us to buy merch. Just like the show, he took his time to get acquainted with us and listen to what we had to say, even if it was banal. (Glasses update: he now has a backup pair as his original pair broke since last time we talked.)
You can never know how celebrity will morph a person, but I expect that Dan Croll will always be that sweetheart you can grab a beer with and enjoy a pleasant chat. Keep your eyes and ears on Dan Croll (aka the Man Troll), and check out his just released, debut album Sweet Disarray. Or as Dan says, if you buy it illegally that means John (bassist) will die of starvation. Don’t let John die! If anything, that man deserves a hug for his bass services. I bought the CD so John can live to play bass another day.