We can only hold this for so long
time trying to sweep us along
by the time we look back
it’s already gone away
Feels like all I could ever be
flying by my front door
and it’s the same enemy
trying to keep our hearts from wanting more
– Daniel Champagne, “Same Enemy”
High expectations can lead to incredible triumphs of hope … or they can create crushing disappointment. So after eight months of looking especially forward to this month’s show – which seemed like a highly unrealistic intersection of my little concert series in Memphis, TN and an impossibly virtuosic artist from Bega, New South Wales – I was also more than a little bit nervous that it couldn’t possibly live up to my own hype. I’d spent most of a year entrenched in Daniel Champagne’s catalog, sharing YouTube links with anyone I know who’s ever picked up a guitar, and hitting social media so hard I got an honorary degree from Kardashian University. My natural cynicism eventually began to creep in, and I started to wonder if anything could actually be as good as the show I was envisioning and promising to others.
And, well, that was dumb.
From the moment Daniel stepped up to the mic, our completely full house was transfixed. All of the things that drew me to him as an artist – stunning technical skill, emotionally sweeping musicality, and obvious charm – flowed out over the audience in the first five minutes. Forty-five people who likely did not own a single one of Daniel’s albums between them sat stunned in instant fandom. My own son, who had so far not had the patience to make it through any of our 19 previous shows, parked himself on the hallway floor for the duration (and was rewarded with a personal dedication of “Spoonful“).
Daniel had spent the entire previous night (and morning) in transit to Memphis, literally running from a show in Edmonton, Alberta to catch a plane to Toronto, then flying to New York, and finally winging it down here. It would have been easy and totally excusable for him to modulate the show accordingly, leaning on his more low-key pieces to put on a thoroughly enjoyable singer-songwriter showcase. Instead, he played with such energy and intensity that it necessitated a wardrobe change between sets.
The sheer physicality of Daniel’s performance is ridiculously compelling, of course, but to be honest, it wouldn’t be as meaningful on its own. His guitar acrobatics are amazingly fun to watch (I actually broke a sweat just spectating), but what held the crowd in awe was the openness and authenticity of Daniel’s writing and his thoughtful interpretation of the handful of covers blended into the mix. He also has genuine curiosity, an essential tool for someone who makes a living by sharing other people’s lives. Even the stories behind the songs were crafted with a natural build and well constructed payoff. It’s a bonus level of talent to make an audience feel trusted and appreciated, and when that’s in place, the whole room is enchanted.
Through two sets that rolled with ease from blues to grunge to ’70s folk with all sorts of fully original stops in between, Daniel created a completely one-of-a-kind experience for a legion of first-time fans. The show was everything I could have hoped for and much that I couldn’t even imagine. Despite my stellar expectations, the only disappointment of the entire evening was that it had to end at all.
How can such a nice man be so mean to his guitar?