I bought my first Danny Michel CD about 12 years ago. I'd never heard any of his music before. The purchase was based entirely on two factors; 1) I'd heard this guy's name somewhere, and 2) I had some credit at the used CD place and little else was calling out to me. It was an excellent find. I got a few other CDs on that trip, most of which wound up eventually returning to the bins from whence they came. But that copy of Fibsville has stuck around and I've been a fan ever since.
Looking through old reviews, it occurs to me that I have told some variant of this story any time I've ever had to mention Danny Michel in one of these reviews. Whatever. At least I'm consistent.
Anyway, I think I've bought all of his albums since then, and have enjoyed them all. However, the live experience, at least in my experience, hasn't always been able to measure up. The first few times I saw him, I thought he was fantastic, but the last few times I've seen him weren't so hot. One time, he was clearly exhausted after driving something like 10 hours to get to a show with an apathetic crowd in a half-filled Exchange. Most recently, I saw him as part of the Songwriters' Circle at Junofest, where he was good, but I found him upstaged by the likes of Kathleen Edwards and Bahamas.
But this would be my first chance to see a proper Danny solo show in... my goodness, seven years? And this is a special tour. Have you ever seen something stupid and amazing and ridiculous online and daydreamed about buying it? The short version is that unlike most of us*, Danny Michel has some follow-through. And that is how he bought a 1970s van airbrushed with Star Trek murals. And with a red velvet interior. Yes. He's taking it on tour across Canada and filming a web series along the way, with people like 54-40, Jann Arden, Chris Hadfield, and Barney Bentall recording songs in the space van. On the very day of our show, he was in a parade in Vulcan, Alberta, because of course he would have to be. So I had high hopes.
*I own a set of four prints I bought off Etsy featuring the cast of The Golden Girls as zombies. This does not compare to the financial commitment of buying a space van, nor the intestinal fortitude required to take the dang thing on a cross-country tour, but I can't throw dumb-purchase stones without acknowledging my own glass house.
Sadly, the curse of the Danny Michel show struck again. A curse of... mild disappointment. Which is a pretty good curse to have if one has to have a curse, I guess. But still.
I will preface my whinging by saying that none of this was Danny's fault. I thought he was delightful and was on pace to be up there with the better shows of his that I'd seen. But the environment left enough to be desired that we ultimately didn't stick around.
We parked about a block from the venue and I took a few pictures of the sweet space van before we went inside. It was everything I'd hoped it would be; namely, a really awesome van that I am very glad I'm not responsible for.
Again, let me state for the record that I thought Danny was great. He played a set of about 45 minutes before taking a break; in that time, we got Whale of a Tale (from Fibsville), Sweet Things, Feather Fur & Fin, and Wish Willy, among others. He told some fun stories about the space van tour and about the work he's done with a school in Belize. And most importantly, he asked the crowd to quiet down, which didn't happen to the degree anyone would have wanted, but I appreciated the effort.
We've been to the Artful Dodger twice, for Mo Kenney and for Greg MacPherson. This was quite a while ago now, back when the place was very new. The finishing wasn't done, and they weren't serving meals yet. They've come a long way since then and I've heard lots of great reviews of the food and the venue. Unfortunately, everyone else has apparently heard the same things. Our tickets said 8:00 p.m., which could mean anything from a start time of 8:00 to midnight, in my concert-going experience (in this case, it was around 8:30). We got there at 7:45 and the place was full. Wall-to-wall, no seats open, packed with diners. And the thing about the Artful Dodger is that there is no good place to stand. The stage is small, the floor in front of it is filled with tables, and there are bleachers in the back of the room. Walking from Point A to Point B is difficult and you cannot stand anywhere without being obnoxiously and obviously in someone's way. We took the best spot that we could in the back of the room but this still put in in the path of the servers and I don't think 30 seconds went by without one of us (most often Mika) having to move out of someone's way.
I'm not sure what the rules are at the Artful Dodger. If someone comes in for dinner at 6:00, do they get to stay for the show at 8:00 without buying a ticket? My suspicion is yes; this would explain why we were in between three groups of people, two of which had no interest in the show at all and were just going to keep on having their conversations despite the guy on stage trying to play guitar and sing some songs. There is no crowd so disrespectful as those that did not pay to attend.
The third group could be described as Danny Michel superfans and though I rolled my eyes a bit at their... let's go with "intensity" - they were really into the show and I find it hard to find fault with that. Especially when there were so many other people nearby with whom I could find all kinds of fault.
Anyway. Like I said, Danny played for 45 minutes before taking a bit of a breather, promising to come back for a second set. I will assume he did and I will assume it was great, but I wouldn't know. We took the opportunity at the break to call it a night. I gave it a fair shot. I made it to intermission, I enjoyed some songs, I laughed at some stories (especially the Wish Willy one), I had as good a time as I was going to have given the surroundings. Which wasn't enough to justify staying. The full restaurant and its wood-fired oven meant that it was awfully warm in there. To counteract that, there was a big fan directly behind us, blowing in cool air from the street. Between the ignorant jackasses at the tables around us, the fan noise from behind us, and the general not-ideal standing spot we found ourselves in, we really couldn't hear all that well, and it was hot (though the wood smoke did lend a certain ambience to the nature-themed Feather Fur & Fin), and it just wasn't that fun. Mika isn't a big Danny Michel fan anyway, so instead, I took her for ice cream. I think there's a lesson there. If you can't answer yes to "is this better than getting ice cream?" then you may as well just go get ice cream.
UPCOMING SHOWS • Moist (July 11) • Geoff Berner w/Whiskey Jerks (July 29) • Lucinda Williams (July 30) • Gin Blossoms w/ Fastball & The Rembrandts (July 31) • Fred Eaglesmith w/Tif Ginn (August 2) • Regina Folk Festival feat. Sinead O'Connor, Jenny Lewis, Vance Joy, Blue Rodeo, Bahamas, more (August 7-9) • Chubby Checker & The Wildcats (September 26) • Hawksley Workman (October 16)