Listen to Austin 360 Radio

Review: In which Dan Croll wins over Sixth Street with a kite

Eric Webb
ewebb@statesman.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published May 1, 2014

Strangers became friends Thursday night as British singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Dan Croll and his band played an intimate — and sold out — show at the Parish.

Sporting his signature thick-rimmed black glasses and a top-heavy plume of hair that stole the show, Croll’s thick Liverpudlian accent disarmed left and right with cheeky cool. Though he excelled at ACL Fest last year, the Parish’s smaller venue was the prime spot for the singer’s brand of good-natured electrofolk and conversational stage banter. The promise of summer breezed through the room with every light tune. The heat helped too: “It’s hot in Texaaaaaaas,” Croll moaned at one point. The set was a laidback, down-to-earth hangout, feeling less like a sold-out concert and more like some chums playing songs for their friends in the living room. (It’s a slight cliche to describe cozy shows as such, but sometimes it just feels right.)

The easygoing vibe was a testament to Croll’s ability to connect with a crowd, because he and the band were obviously stunned that they had filled the room so thoroughly at the first headlining gig in town.

“This is crazy!” Croll exclaimed at one point, swigging a Shiner between songs. “Didn’t think there would be so many people. But there is.”

The band made the most out of songs from Croll’s recently released debut album “Sweet Disarray,” keeping things confident and polished but lively. The band’s four-part harmonies were the star of the evening, and if you were a sucker for a tight harmony, songs like “Maway” and the careening jam session of “Home” were the keys to your heart.

Croll impressed with the shiny, triumphant, Paul-Simon-esque rock of “Compliment Your Soul,” which had the audience visibly bouncing. A tambourine-laden performance of the poppy “In/Out” gave the singer a chance to put his powerful falsetto on display. We were secretly hoping for a Timberlake cover, such was Croll’s skill. And special attention must to be paid to Croll’s guitarist, Jethro Fox, who laid down a yearning guitar riff on “Only Ghost” straight out of the 1980s U2 playbook.

Speaking of the band, Croll was true to form as a frontman: Ostensibly a solo artist, he plays more like the leader of a gang of pals. At one point, after mentioning that he can’t pay the band if people don’t pay for the album, Croll said “They don’t eat, they don’t drink. Well, they drink a lot.” Running down the band’s beverage choices, the singer ribbed drummer Dave Kelly for drinking water instead of beer, eliciting good natured boos from the crowd. “Oh, don’t boo Dave!” Croll chastised to laughs.

The charm offensive began to escalate toward the end of the evening, when Croll received an American flag kite from some fans at the front of the stage. Croll had been set to perform at this year’s Zilker Kite Festival, which was postponed into oblivion. The visibly humbled singer read the fans’ note of appreciation and well-wishes aloud to the audience, taking great care to emphasize the “y’all” contained within. It was a sweet moment that carried the rest of the night away in a wave of good feelings.

By the time the encore rolled around, Croll had warmed up to his audience to the point of taking a fan’s smartphone and filming the band during a rollicking “From Nowhere.” Critical crowd-love mass hit hard. Deafening cheers caused Croll and his bandmates to throw their hands up, sharing shocked expressions with each other in a state of grateful bewliderment.

“I was a little scared about (the show),” Croll said, “but this has given me a little confidence.”

That shine gave a heartbreaking performance of the album’s title track, which is about Croll’s grandmother struggling with dementia, an extra lift. After sincerely offering to talk to any audience members after the show about their family’s own struggles with dementia, Croll and the band offered soaring harmonies to a raptly attentive assembly. The rest of the band dropped their instruments, with only the singer’s guitar scoring the song. Croll apologized for bringing the mood down; it’s doubtful he realized just how much he lifted spirits instead.