Monday, March 25, 2013

Andrew McMahon (ex-Jack's Mannequin) concert review: Santa Ana, Calif.

photo by Kelly A. Swift
A version of my review originally appeared at: 

“A lot of my history is in this room; I’m happy to share it with you,” said Andrew McMahon, from the Observatory stage, referring to the venue’s previous incarnation as the Galaxy Theatre.

It was here where a teenage McMahon (pictured, left) and his Dana Point alt-rock band Something Corporate made early demo CD, Ready…Break, in 2000.

Now that McMahon’s other band Jack’s Mannequin has ended, the singer/pianist is performing and recording under his own name. A short opening jaunt with fun. commenced earlier this year; another one with O.A.R. starts in June (no SoCal dates though).

A feather in the career cap comes next week when the NBC-TV series “Smash” will find cast members performing the McMahon-penned “I Heard Your Voice in a Dream.” His new EP is slated for release on April 30.

While past Jack’s Mannequin tours often included a few SoCo songs, this solo tour finds him taking a more balanced approach, giving both sides of the career equal footing. 

Backed by a solid five-piece band (including Jack’s Mannequin drummer Jay McMillan and bassist Mike Wagner) in Santa Ana, Thursday’s sold out, 80-minute show started with McMahon alone on his brown Baldwin piano during compelling new ballad “No Man is an Island.”

photo by Kelly A. Swift
Then the wildly enthusiastic fans howled in appreciation upon the opening notes of “The Mixed Tape.” Following it with “Straw Dog,” provided a powerful 1-2 punch. 

McMahon hadn’t played his hometown area in quite awhile (Jack's Mannequin did a pair of farewell gigs in LA last year for his Dear Jack Foundation) and frequently admitted it was good to be back in Orange County. 

“Learn to Dance,” the second new tune debuted, boasted an upbeat poppy sound, complete with handclaps, synthesizer and prominent percussion.

Another strong EP preview track was “Synesthesia” (loosely defined as an unusual perception of color or sound), featuring celestial lyrics and a dense, spacey synth bed played by four of the musicians.

Some older selections contained noticeably fuller arrangements, especially “Bruised,” “Amy, I” and “Punk Rock Princess,” where McMahon stood on the piano and briefly ventured into the crowd (organ, psychedelic guitar and smooth backing vocals by four of the guys were welcome additions). 

“This song plugged me back into the world,” shared McMahon about the stirring “Swim,” partially inspired by his battle with Leukemia and subsequent stem cell transplant. Later, the vitriolic “If You C Jordan” was prefaced by a funny story about the time where he practically lived at the Galaxy while recording Ready…Break and attending his high school prom there. 
photo by Kelly A. Swift
Come encore time, McMahon did the emotional epic “Konstantine” alone until the band slowly joined in and he appended a quick line from Annie Lennox’s “Why.”

Seattle rock trio Barcelona - which put out major label album Absolutes in 2009 and just self-released the follow up Not Quite Yours - definitely impressed at Observatory with a 35-minute opening set that recalled Keane at times.

Front man Brian Fennell possessed a self-deprecating sense of humor and rich voice, best exemplified during the soulful "On & Off," a tender "Less Than Two" and a measured cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," done with airy keyboards and heavenly vocals.

Erland launched the night's proceedings on a rustic note. Originally hailing from Dana Point, but now based in Santa Barbara, the enticing alt-folk quartet did a half hour performance culled from the McMahon produced EP "All I've Got" and album On Our Side. Reminscent of Guster, Counting Crows and a little Mumford & Sons, the harmonica-infused "Ain't Worth the Fight" and a good take on Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A Changing" were highlights.

Setlist: Andrew McMahon at the Observatory 
Main set: No Man is an Island/The Mixed Tape/Straw Dog/Television/Learn to Dance/Holiday from Real/Me and the Moon/Amy, I/Punk Rock Princess/Swim/I Woke Up in a Car/The Resolution/Bruised/Synesthesia/Dark Blue/If You C Jordan 
Encore: Konstantine/La La Lie

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