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Dark and Uncertain: Nicole Dollanganger at Longboat Hall

You know a concert will be special when a line of people wearing white wedding gowns wraps around the venue. Canadian gothic singer-songwriter Nicole Dollanganger released her long-awaited seventh album, Married in Mount Airy, to an overwhelmingly warm reception this January. I loved the album—my favourite song was “Whispering Glades” for its haunting, eulogy-like lyrics and dreamy chorus. A doomy anthem for graduating grade 12 online. Dollanganger’s ethereal indie has taken my imagination to wild places since I was fifteen, and I was beyond excited about this show.

Her last Toronto show was in 2018—before I discovered her “Pumped Up Kicks” cover. The May 13 show at Longboat Hall was worth the wait and only for $25. The opening act, 9 Million, fronted by Dollanganger’s producer Matthew Tomasi, was an explosive display of alternative rock musicianship with relentless drums and cosmic guitar solos. Their set was short, but the crowd loved it. Many fans wore heavy metal patches on their vests and jeans. Dollanganger’s music captures the outsider spirit of metal more than many metal bands do.

Every concert I’ve previously attended was at a massive venue, so I’ve never experienced an intimate venue’s communal atmosphere. The enthusiasm for such an underground artist bled from every wedding gown and obscure merch drop at Longboat Hall. Someone I met in line said they flew from Arizona for this show. The merch and drink lines competed in length. Everyone was so friendly, including Tomasi, whom I talked to after his band’s set. I told him how long I’d been listening to Dollanganger’s music, and he thanked me for coming to the show.

Smoke poured onto the small, dimly lit stage, and Dollanganger started her first song, “Lacrymaria Olor,” off her 2018 album Heart Shaped Bed. The guitarist used a glass slide to create a gloomy, wailing backdrop for the angelic vocals. The song’s title translates from Latin to Swan Tear—a fitting name because it is an emotionally raw song—the perfect opener. All ten songs on the setlist were certified classics, from the hellish hypnosis of “Gold Satin Dreamer” to the sulking seduction of “Heart Shaped Bed.” The crowd cheered at the first contemplative notes from “Tammy Faye.” Songs from the latest album, included, though “Alligator Blood” and “You’re so Cool” were clear highlights. Parts of the latter’s lyrics are from the 1994 cult classic crime film Natural Born Losers, which I had seen for the first time a few days before the show. Knowing the original context of the lines, “And I see the future, and there’s no death ‘cause you and I are angels,” made the emotion in her vocals simmer. Couple that with the candlelit stage, under heavy smoke effects and the feeling of outsiders coming together; hearing it live was a religious experience. Those two songs are off her 2015 album Natural Born Losers. I listen to this album in full at least once a week and hope to hear more from it at future shows. The closing song was “Whispering Glades,” and it did not disappoint.

After the show ended, I asked Tomasi if he could ask Dollanganger one question for this article—what does her future as an artist look like? He enthusiastically returned only with the words “dark and uncertain.” Very on-brand, but this artist’s future certainly looks bright to me.

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