Daniel Romano / Dead Soft Lucky Bar, Victoria BC, February 26
Published Feb 27, 2019As the frontman for Attack in Black and Ancient Shapes, as well as a contributor to efforts like Daniel, Fred and Julie, City and Colour and the Weather Station, Daniel Romano has built quite a reputation in Canadian music circles. Still, nothing could have prepared Victoria for just how much ass this guy would kick. This was a truly face-melting rock spectacle if there ever was one.
Less successful in that regard was the opening band, Dead Soft. I last saw them at the Music Waste Festival five years ago, and though they play as a quartet now instead of a power trio, little else has changed. Their vocals have certainly not improved, coming off as strained solo and grating when attempting to harmonize between guitarist Nathaniel Epp and bassist Keeley Rochon, sonics best delivered in a full petulant scream with a disregard for attempted sustained pitches.
They still have decent riffs, though, spiking that angsty '90s alt rock / power-pop vein, but not really adding much to it that wasn't already provided by the likes of Weezer, Dinosaur Jr. and Foo Fighters. Their songs ran together, and it felt like they were chasing the beat much of the time. That said, Dead Soft did get signed to Arts & Crafts, easily one of the best record labels in the country, so they must be doing something right.
In contrast, Daniel Romano and his touring gang did all the right things. Backed by a four-piece band, you instantly recognize that these guys practice together a ton. There was rarely a quiet moment throughout their set, barely a pause to tune, let alone string together enough words to constitute banter. The band blended songs into each other and/or switched tempos at the drop of a hat, delivering dramatic dynamics and propelling the beat so compellingly as to pick up any listener and float them out to sea.
Ryan Peters had the look much of the crowd did, blissfully lost in his own Technicolor world, as he added bongos, tambourine and maraca to the fringes. In the other corner, mustached rhythm guitarist Dave Nardi bounced back and forth agitatedly, like Eli Wallach, jacked on speed, gearing up for a saloon brawl. Wearing his sunglasses at night, bassist Roddy Holliday held stoic power stances as he precisely tickled his four-string, almost bending over backwards when the power compelled him, while Daniel's little brother, drummer Ian Romano had the timing, nuance, and energy of a young Ginger Baker.
For his part, Daniel was all business. He looked like he stepped right out of a J. C. Penney catalogue from 1965, with pleated khaki polyester pants, soft green suede blazer, colourful ascot and brown leather wingtip heeled boots, his face framed by a curly mop top. He never smiled and rarely talked, offering only a thanks or two throughout his main set before expressing gratitude for the sold-out crowd's enthusiasm before their encore. Instead of himself, he primarily elected to let his music do the talking, and it spoke volumes.
Drawing from across his impressive, prolific catalogue, which counts ten or so solo albums since 2010, including three in 2018 alone, Romano and his gang of misfits breathed new life into everything they touched. Their version of "Time Forgot (To Change My Heart)" from 2011's Sleep Beneath the Willow was cranked up from a mournful country ballad that would have done Porter Wagoner proud, to an accelerated five-speed rocker that could tear the Grand Ole Opry down to its foundation. "Sucking the Old World Dry" progressed from the slacker mod-twang of the version on 2017's Modern Pressure to a punky protest psych-jam, complete with an atonal freak-out section from which they perfectly landed back on the chorus.
In other cases, songs were basically presented as palpably more invigorated version of themselves, like how the refrain of "coward" in "I Had to Hide Your Poem (In a Song)" from 2016's Mosey elevated from the mournful moan on record to a soul-searing scream live. Just when you thought they couldn't take it any higher, they always found another level.
Daniel Romano may have filled Lucky Bar on a Tuesday night this time around, but it would be surprising if he didn't pack Capital Ballroom to the rafters the next time he's in town. He's the real deal.