Swim for the music that saves you

On November 15, we had the opportunity to see one of my absolute favourite singer-songwriters, Andrew McMahon.


You may recall I’ve talked about Andrew a couple of times before. I saw him last November, and I’ve been listening to him in some form or another for the last seven or eight years. I’ve made it a point to see him every time he’s in town since 2010, so this was my fifth time.

We missed the opening act, Lolo, because we chose to have dessert at Factory Girl instead, but since I doubted she would play “Miss Jackson” or “Centuries”, I didn’t mind missing her twenty minute set.

The next band to go on was The Griswolds. I’ve never heard of them, but I really enjoyed them! They were a great blend of the headliners, New Politics and Andrew McMahon, plus they’re Australian! They played an excellent version of Vance Joy’s “Riptide” (I did not know that Vance Joy is also Australian, so that was cool). Check them out if you’re looking for something to bop around to.

New Politics was up next. I’ve seen them twice before (once as a headliner, then again as an opening band), so I was a little perplexed when they were announced as Andrew McMahon’s tourmates because they don’t really have the same vibe. While I’m still on the fence as to whether or not their music makes sense together, there’s no denying how much fun New Politics is, especially live. Since the last two times I’ve seen them, they’ve released another album – this year’s Vikings – so it was nice to hear newer songs. Of course, the highlight of their set was still “Harlem”, though Andrew McMahon bounding out on stage for “Girl Crush” was pretty epic too.

Finally, Andrew himself came out. Surprisingly, he started out slow with the ballad, “Rainy Girl”, but immediately picked it up with “Dark Blue”, one of my and Ro’s favourite Jack’s Mannequin songs.

The set was a good mix of his solo stuff (“Canyon Moon”, “Halls”, etc) and songs from his his earlier career: the classic “I Woke Up in a Car”, a mellower version of “Punk Rock Princess”, the always outstanding “La La Lie” (New Politics came out for part of the song, and it was clear that they were all enjoying themselves), one of my other faves, “Swim” (which he dedicated to my Light the Night team captain Laurel!), and even the less popular “Bloodshot”. And, of course, he closed the show with the double whammy of awesomeness: “Cecilia and the Satellite” and “Synesthesia”.

For some reason, the crowd seemed particularly rowdy, and a couple of people were even escorted out before the show ended. If you’re not familiar with Andrew McMahon, all you need to need is that he’s a laid-back California dude who sings songs about love and finding yourself. So having a heckler in the audience or spotting two drunk girls fighting another girl for a balloon (both of which happened!) isn’t something that’s normal at one of his shows. As upsetting as it is to see a performer get mad, I liked that he made a point to call out people who were being disruptive, and made sure they understood that he doesn’t tolerate that kind of behaviour, especially in light of recent tragic events. Why go to a show if you’re just going to ruin it for everyone else?

Boisterous people aside, it was a fantastic show that left me with a scratchy voice and a mild post-concert depression the next morning. I absolutely recommend Andrew McMahon – with about fifteen years of material, I’m sure you’ll find something you like.

I see colours when I hear your voice

See this guy? This is Andrew McMahon. He’s wonderful. One of my favourite singer-songwriters ever. I’ve mentioned him before on this blog – twice, actually. Last night, I saw him for the fourth time – this means that I’ve seen him in all of his incarnations, from Something Corporate to Jack’s Mannequin, his solo show last summer (when I almost drowned – that’s a story for another day), and then finally as “Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness”.

Opening band Junior Prom had an American Authors-meets-Twenty One Pilots vibe (the TOP comparison might be made solely based on the fact that there were only two guys in the band). They were pretty upbeat and did a fine job getting the crowd ready for the next two bands.

Hunter Hunted seemed like a mishmash of other bands I listen to: sort of a non-synthesizer-using Bastille (Imagine Dragons?) and someone else that I can’t remember (I came up with a great comparison last night but foolishly didn’t write it down). Ro said Bombay Bicycle Club and she may be on to something.

Finally Andrew came out. When I go to an Andrew McMahon course, I expect a certain level of flawlessness, and he always delivers. This show included a combination of songs from his past bands, as well as songs off his latest release, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, which came out last month. One of my favourite, spine-tingling, moments was during “Cecilia and the Satellite” (the lead single off of AMITW), when the stage lights went off, plunging them into darkness, only to come back with full force during the post-chorus “oh”s. He also played a beautiful, slightly mellower version of one of his most famous (I mean, it was on One Tree Hill at one point!) Jack’s Mannequin songs, “The Mixed Tape”.

The original song.

His between-song banter was funny, occasionally lapsing into serious (like when he called out the people who had started a fight in the middle of the crowd), but above all, he sounded genuinely grateful that he had a room full of people who have faithfully followed his musical endeavors over the past 10+ years. And he made sure not to let down those die-hard fans, especially when he stomped on his piano and pulled out a harmonica for “La La Lie”.

Andrew McMahon is one of those musicians who can do no wrong in my book. He could release the worst song to ever exist, and I’d still listen to it on repeat for at least a week. Of course, it’s just not possible for him to release a bad song – even if the beat is mediocre, his words more than make up for it.

My life has become a boring pop song and everyone’s singing along

Did you know that there are TWO Emmy celebrations? The actual Emmys were this weekend, but there’s also the “Creative Emmys” which take place a week before.

I just learned about this second celebration (though I guess technically it’s the “first”, in chronological terms) this year because Andrew McMahon was nominated for the song he wrote for Smash.

I am an Andrew McMahon fangirl. Over the past 12-15 years, he’s released music under three different monikers, and I firmly stand by each and every one of them.

I wish I had listened to Something Corporate when they first came out, but I was 10, and didn’t really listen to anything outside of what was played at my house. (This is a particularly shocking revelation if you know me now, since 90% of my free time is spent at a concert/talking about/listening to/downloading music.) But I was lucky enough to attend their 10 year reunion tour in August 2010, and it was a fantastic show. I often tell people that the first time I almost cried at a concert was when I heard “Konstantine” live especially when the audience (including me) sang along to all 9.5 minutes of it.

If you could be my punk rock princess, I would be your garage band king.

After SoCo went on “hiatus” (i.e. they broke up) in 2005-ish, Andrew turned his attention to his side project, Jack’s Mannequin.  This was when – after a friend made me listen to “Bruised” in grade 11 – I was first introduced to his wonderful lyrical story-telling. It remains one of my most favourite songs of all time. To be honest, I don’t think I really listened to the rest of his songs at the time (except maybe “Dark Blue” and “Miss Delaney”), but when I finally listened to the first Jack’s album, Everything in Transit, in full, I was hooked. I saw Jack’s live in January 2012 and lost my mind so many times, I can’t even tell you.

Have you ever been alone in a crowded room?

At the end of last summer, Andrew retired “Jack’s Mannequin” and decided to release music under his own name. So far, he’s put out one 4-song EP this year, “The Pop Underground”. Much to my delight, when he went on tour supporting O.A.R., he played a solo show in Toronto (he played songs from all 3 of his incarnations). This was in early July – July 8th, exactly. I’ll probably never forget that show because it was the day of the huge storm  – you know, the one that resulted in subway stations being flooded? – which I walked through, because there was no way I was going to miss him. And even though I was soaked to the bone, and it took 3 days for my shoes to dry…it was a completely worth it.

I see colours when I hear your voice.

One of the best parts of any Andrew McMahon show – regardless of which band he’s touring with – is the part where he climbs onto his piano and stomps out the last part of the song with his feet. You would think that playing the piano with your feet would result in unpleasant, discordant noise, but it’s actually delightful, both to hear and to see.

I realize this post has gushed on for a bit, so I’ll wrap it up.

One other amazing aspect of Andrew McMahon is that he successfully defeated leukemia about 8 years ago – right as he left SoCo, shortly after recording “Everything in Transit”. He filmed all the big moments of his illness and released it as a documentary, “Dear Jack”. If you ever need to gain perspective on your life, if you ever feel like it couldn’t get worse, watch it – and realize that he was only 22, battling a terminal disease, but still managed to stay (relatively) optimistic through the whole thing.

Obviously he survived, but I still tear up watching it- especially when he starts losing his hair…

I’m just going to put it out there: Andrew McMahon is a legend.

“Swim for the music that saves you when you’re not so sure you’ll survive.”