Thursday, October 29, 2009

Andrew McMahon (Jack's Mannequin) show review

A version of my review originally appeared in the OC Register. Photo courtesy of

Andrew McMahon

Where: House of Blues Anaheim
When: Oct. 27

For Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate fans, seeing those bands’ singer/pianist, Andrew McMahon, do a rare acoustic show on Tuesday night was a welcome treat – something that is typically reserved for encores.

McMahon has embarked on a short cross-country solo tour in conjunction with screenings of the Dear Jack documentary, which recounts his 2005 battle with leukemia and subsequent stem cell transplant (the film will be shown at the Landmark Theater on Pico in Los Angeles today; tickets are sold out).

DVD and downloadable versions will be available next Tuesday via stores and iTunes, in addition to a new “Dear Jack” EP with four previously unreleased tracks (iTunes only) and a limited edition art book (through

The Anaheim concert was sold out. Downstairs, the general admission floor was filled with people in rows of chairs. McMahon’s extended family, plus high school and college age enthusiasts packed the balcony area.

Former Orange County resident McMahon - currently sporting a full beard – walked out on the House of Blues stage to circus type music. Without saying a word, he held up several placards with greetings and instructions for the audience (“no requests,” “you can get up and dance,” etc.).

Then he sat down at the black grand piano center stage and began the stirring 105-minute set with “Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby).” Sung and played softly, it was the first of several selections from last year’s excellent Jack’s Mannequin album The Glass Passenger. The band’s Bobby “Raw” Anderson joined McMahon on acoustic guitar and backing vocals most of the evening.

One test of a song’s strength is how well it holds up in stripped down form without excess instrumentation and studio effects. Black Eyed Peas or Lil’ Wayne tunes, for example, would come across even more inane acoustically.

Not so with McMahon’s heartfelt compositions, which tend to be demoed on piano. Even the rockers from his early ‘00s days in Something Corporate (“21 and Invincible,” “Punk Rock Princess”) worked like a charm in this format. The latter gained a haunting quality, with slowed down tempo and whispered vocals.

“It’s good to be home. I don’t get to play OC as much as I’d like to,” McMahon noted before “Dark Blue,” which retained the original version’s upbeat syncopation. He gave background info behind many of the tunes, making the proceedings seem more intimate. When he’d pull out something older, like the seldom played tender ballad “Walking By” (from Something Corporate’s 2001 EP Audioboxer) or “She Paints Me Blue,” I could hear gasps of excitement coming from the teenage girls behind me.

Often the alt-pop tunes sounded just as buoyant as on the albums. “La La Lie,” “Crashin’” (which McMahon said was about having writer’s block) and “Holiday From Real,” with another loud audience singalong, were key examples. Anderson got a solo turn on his own pleasant “Olive.”

Two surprising covers spotlighted both ends of McMahon’s vocal range. A quiet, tempered take on Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman,” was breathtaking and recalled Billy Joel in his mid-‘70s prime. “Moon River” (popularized by Jerry Butler in the 1961 hit and movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s) was delivered in dramatic fashion a la Rufus Wainwright.

Later, McMahon said “this room has a lot of special meaning for me.” Certainly the same held true for fans during this illuminating show.

Setlist: Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)/Dark Blue/As You Sleep/Crashin’/Holiday From Real/Annie Use Your Telescope/The Resolution/She Paints Me Blue/Spinning/Walking By/Just Like a Woman/Olive/21 & Invincible/La La Lie/The Mixed Tape/Moon River/Bruised
Encore: There There Katie/Punk Rock Princess/Swim/The Astronaut/Bloodshot

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