Before we dive into the experience of a Daniel Champagne show, it’s important to educate yourself to the parts of an acoustic guitar. This of this as our map for the review, something to jump back to while reading the article. You’ll read, much like the buffalo with American Natives, nothing gets wasted. Daniel uses the entire instrument in his music. No inch doesn’t get scratched, hit, or tapped.
The Australian-born musical prodigy Daniel Champagne has been touring music since he was 18 years old. His bluesy-folk roots style has captivated audiences not only because of his impeccable ability to squeeze so many sounds from his Cole Clark guitar, but the wash of bittersweet lyrics and sweet tender voice that blends with the guitar.
What better setting to experience the sounds than at Sundin Hall at Hamline University. Acoustically designed with a wide open stage, a long microphone sat in front. Daniel’s presence immediately filled the stage when starting with “That’s Why I Still Chase The Sky.” Kicking off the journey with a wanderlust and spectacle, Daniel churns through the song by beating the body, cutaway, and scratching his pick across the bottom of the guitar. This rhythmic whirlwind intensifies at the ending, culminating in a simple pull of the a string at the headstock, then flick to chime the ending.
Chatting with Daniel before the show, he’s not shy in stating that he’s gone through a lot of guitars. The art of using the whole instrument, wearing away at the wood, tapping the cutaway, and constantly re-tuning after every song takes a toll. You can see the grooves from his pick at the right angle as he scraps the guitar to pull different sounds and percussion from it. His music literally eats away at his instrument.
“Supernova” starts with both his hands on the fretboard, introducing the riff. This builds to tapping the body, the top, and then soundboard. The song mystically combines the pattern to his lyrics, emerging into a true supernova feeling. Watching his hands, feeling each of the pauses, and hearing the dissonances of the guitar in that space, is impossible to describe.
Daniel pauses to tell a story about meeting a couple at an airport and quickly becoming friends with them. That lead to him playing at their wedding and writing a song for them. “Back to Nova Scotia” is a prime example of that heartfelt bittersweet story telling of falling apart and coming back together.
“I just spent my whole night
Thinking about my whole life
Thinking how I can’t find a reason to stay
And there’s nothing left to say
Life got in the way”
He follows with a whirling dervish instrumental written for his old guitar teacher. And yet, we see another talent in his playing. As he’s tapping a beat, he changes the capo back and forth during the song. Skillfully timed, it’s mind blowing to witness and hear the shift alternating. Daniel engages his whole body into the song by dynamically shifting on his feet, pulling back and pacing forward at bullet-point moments.
He tunes between songs, plucking and strumming to lock in the tone. Tuning down and playing a riff that everyone knows, he dives into Nirvana’s “Come as You Are.” It’s a haunting rendition that really pulls out the heartbreak of Kurt’s tragic death at the age of 27. Daniels’ version is one I won’t soon forget.
Ending the set with a blitz of sounds and knocks, the intricate mastery of his guitar concludes in an epic way. Holding it above his head, then slowly bringing it down on stage, laying it on it’s side, he plays two notes that resonate throughout the space. The venue remains silent as those notes gently fade out. Daniel remains still until the very last ounce of sound is gone.
Quite simply put, you can’t fully experience music without the visuals. I’ve never witnessed that level of craftsmanship and indulgence in an instrument. There is a reason we should discover new music, explore the traveling artists, and be open-minded to push behind what we are used to. Daniel’s buffalo guitar left everyone a bit fuller last night.
With an extensive 44 shows in North America, check his tour schedule for a chance to witness this feast.