Although Andrew McMahon (former front man of Jack’s Mannequin) isn’t known for playing super-loud shows, ear plugs where definitely a good idea to protect from the screaming girls in the audience. But McMahon, from the moment he took the stage at The Orange Peel last Friday, played to his crowd, leaping onto the piano that was set up front and center.
Although McMahon is on tour in support of his new four-song EP, The Pop Underground (read his thoughts about it here), he started his set with the Jack’s Mannequin song, “The Mixed Tape.” His five-member band filled in the piano pop with big, rock drums, extra keys parts (there were three keyboards on stage, in addition to McMahon’s piano) and the occasional flourish of strings.
By two songs in (“I Woke Up in a Car”), the audience was singing along. It kind of looked like a concert inside of a Hollister store, but still, the fan-base was hard to totally pin-point: Mostly college and high school-age (some were there with their parents), but there was also a guy in dress slacks and a button down who knew every word to every song.
McMahon, a skilled showman, seemed to be truly into his fans. He performed with tons of energy, shimmying at his piano, leaping onto the bench and frequently dancing across the the stage. When seated, he had two mics to catch his voice from multiple angles.
New song “Catching Cold” showed McMahon’s progression from his earlier indie-rock catalog into his current pop mode with sonically dense melodies; McMahon juxtaposed a few recent offerings with older material like “Straw Dog” and “Cavanaugh Park” from his days with the band Something Corporate. The latter, the musician pointed out, was written when he was 16. “I’ve been getting to play a lot of songs that didn’t make it into the set list for the last six or seven years,” he told the audience.
For all of McMahon’s charming earnestness, though, he also revealed a subversive side. He mentioned marijuana several times, including “Holiday for Real” (Jack’s Mannequin), which he dedicated to “a very influential lesbian pot dealer back in Venice Beach.” People were cheering and singing along, especially with the line, “Fuck yeah, we can live like this.” That realness and on-stage level of comfort is a strength even greater than McMahon’s considerable talent both as a pianist and a lyricist. He’s the kind of guy who looks like he could be a little awkward, a little bit geeky, but he performs with the focus and prowess of a rockstar. It was refreshing to see.
The singer had the crowd clapping along on “Learn to dance,” an up-beat song that, like so many of McMahon’s offerings, combined subtle darkness with moments that break open to reveal hope. Most of the night was about those moments. Even in his piano ballads, including the emotive “Amy, I” and the moody “Swim” included so much expression and drama. “The Resolution” (with its intro that recalls REO Speedwagon’s “Can’t Fight This Feeling”) was all cool hooks and pop rhythms; “Me and the Moon” (Something Corporate) was thematically dark but sonically bright from its jazzy start to its waltzing beat.
Photo by Sara Hobbs for the Orange Peel.