Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Jack's Mannequin concert review: Pomona

Joe Justice/
A version of my review originally appeared at 

Never underestimate the drawing power on your home turf.

That’s what Andrew McMahon (pictured left in Ventura, Calif.) learned after Jack’s Mannequin wrapped up their North American tour at the Fox Theater. 

On Saturday, the singer/pianist – a Dana Hills High School grad – told the Pomona crowd he initially wasn’t convinced the band could fill the 2,000 capacity venue. But the place nearly sold out; probably a result of being the closest gig in proximity to O.C. all year.

“This really feels like a homecoming,” McMahon said. 

Since Jack’s Mannequin started in the mid-2000s as an offshoot of Something Corporate, I’ve seen the group play local stages that were small (The Troubadour), medium (House of Blues) and large (Coachella, Bamboozle festivals). McMahon conveys a sense of genuine warmth, both in his music and connection with fans, every time.

Last month, third album People and Things debuted at No. 9 on the Billboard 200 chart. Delving into more mature subject matter (family, married life, the struggle to maintain a loving relationship), it frequently recalls his admitted singer/songwriter influences Billy Joel, Paul Simon and Neil Diamond with more of an edge. Front man McMahon branched out to co-write a few of the songs with others (including Matt Thiessen of Relient K) and Brandi Carlile contributes backing vocals to one track.

With the album cover design of multi-colored overlapping circles serving as a backdrop, Jack’s Mannequin opened the highly satisfying 90-minute set with strident pop/rocker “ Release Me. ” McMahon didn’t waste any time jumping up from his brown piano to dance around a bit.

The opening notes of “The Mixed Tape” drew loud cheers, as did all other selections from the 2005 debut, Everything in Transit. McMahon continues to be one of the most exciting piano players in modern rock music, often kicking his stool aside, head placed close to the keys while pounding on them. Fans sang along loudly during an ebullient “Holiday From Real.” 

McMahon showed no signs of tour fatigue; in fact, his singing was exceptionally strong in Pomona , notably on the dramatic “Hostage,” a stark “Restless Dream” (opening act Lady Danville supplied harmonies) and emotional “Swim.” The latter two were part of a solo segment.

The energy level was kicked up a few notches for the rocking “Bloodshot,” where McMahon stood on the piano, jumped off, went into the crowd and Bobby Anderson unleashed brief shards of metal guitar. A definite highlight, as was the frantic main set closer “Bruised,” driven by syncopated piano. 

Come encore time, McMahon dedicated the rarely played People and Things outtake “No Man’s Land” to his wife and “Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)” was breathtaking.

British sextet Scars on 45 (the name comes from an Emmylou Harris quote) delivered an enthralling opening set in the vein of Snow Patrol. Acoustic guitarist Danny Bemrose brought to mind Damien Rice; his vocal blend with Aimee Driver was truly sublime. The pair’s between song banter was humorous. They were quite chatty and came across like longtime pros, despite being together only four years.

Highlights included the majestic “Beauty’s Running Wild” (heard in an episode of “CSI: New York”), the Coldplay-leaning “Heart on Fire” (the title track to their new EP, also featured on the Grey’s Anatomy, Vol. 4 soundtrack) and melancholy “Give Me Something,” which segued into Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams.” The band is definitely one to watch.

Earlier in the evening, LA trio Lady Danville performed some delightful indie-pop music that revisited early Crowded House and Guster territory, with three-part harmonies. Animated percussionist Matthew Frankel was fun to watch. “Cars” and the acerbic, a capella “I Want You Back” made the strongest impressions. 

Setlist: Jack’s Mannequin, Fox Theater, Pomona , Nov. 12, 2011
Main set: Release Me/The Mixed Tape/Holiday From Real/Amy, I/The Resolution/Hostage/Kill the Messenger/Television/Spinning/Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die)/Restless Dream/Swim/Bloodshot/My Racing Thoughts/I’m Ready/Bruised
Encore: No Man’s Land/Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)/Dark Blue/La La Lie

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