Disclaimer: this Shit Camera Exposé handily lives up to its name because it was near impossible to get a decent picture of Mr. Romano.
Stepping into the busy Merchant Ale House, a friend and I were immediately greeted by Daniel Romano’s new record sitting on the merch table. Entitled Come Cry With Me, it was probably the best invitation we were bound to get on a Sunday evening in Saint Catharines. Worth noting: it takes a bad-ass to pull off the paisley-print blazer of pink flowers that Romano’s sporting on the cover, and that same bad-ass walked in half-way through Marine Dreams’ opening set. Entrenched in a wool-collared coat, cigarette-in-mouth and with a dramatic pomp of black hair that fell in sharp blades, Daniel Romano had been a lank figure leering in from outside for twenty minutes while the crowd was nodding along.
The venue, settled less than half an hour away from Romano’s hometown of Welland, Ontario, was already packed and several familiar faces from the You’ve Changed Records roster (including Tamara Lindeman of The Weather Station, who I resisted gushing to all night) were on hand. If the evening resembled a homecoming (and it did – a guy in front of me was bragging through obscenities about sharing a band with him in junior high), Romano was clearly the royalty-in-waiting, a poorly kept local secret.
But now, it was time for a reality check. Performing a set heavily attuned to Come Cry With Me, Daniel Romano and his band offered a fittingly grim end to the weekend with songs about abandonment, heartbreak and disappointment. As bleak as Romano’s songwriting has become since his reawakening as a country-man, his awareness of the genre’s gears made every sad reverie something to take comfort in. The band knew their way around Sleep Beneath the Willow highlight “Time Forgot (To Change My Heart)” expertly, guitar and pedal steel improvising around Romano’s low register, and the breadth of warm instrumentation turned tough new track “I’m Not Crying Over You” into a drunken waltz.
A lot of curt balladry couldn’t detract from Romano’s intensity. From the few instances I caught his face between audience shoulders, Romano peered straight into the claustrophobically close crowd, making eye-to-eye contact with those less than three feet in front of him. And his momentum served the content well, the band taking hardly a breath between a smattering of upbeat selections. “Chicken Bill” was as preposterous live as it is on disc, a fast-talking bass romp that fell decidedly south of the Mason-Dixon line, while “Paul and Jon” lost its gospel trimmings in favour of a shit-kicking, Johnny Cash rendition.
By the time the band reached a five-song medley, which incorporated many tracks from Workin’ For the Music Man, to close the night, a glance around the bar revealed a buzzing and diverse society of hardcore Romano fans; arm in arm singing “My Greatest Mistake”, giving nods of approval back and forth to deep cuts like “Your Hands”. And when Romano nailed fan-favourite “Hard On You”, even the heartbroken among us felt renewed, like it was Saturday night all over again.