March 1, 2007

Jack's Mannequin West Coast Winter Tour: Review

Two years ago, the 23-year-old Andrew McMahon (lead singer of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin) received a diagnosis of leukemia. Now free of cancer, the singer-songwriter-pianist returned to the city where he’d first heard the news of his illness to perform a sold-out show with Jack’s Mannequin at Hammerstein Ballroom. An emotional McMahon spoke freely last night about the simultaneous love and fear he felt being in New York City, coming from the audience’s vivacity and his own negative, cancer-laden associations with the place, which had manifested in a psychosomatic morning speech loss. Happily for those of us lucky enough to be in the audience, McMahon’s voice was back in full force for the poignant, beautiful, rocking show Jack’s put on.

The performance opened with the recorded initial verses of “Holiday from Real,” the first song off their debut (and only) album “Everything in Transit”. The band’s entrance was timed perfectly to take over live midway through the song’s studio version, giving one the sense that the band had broken out of the album and into real life – not an unusual concept for a band with the song “Into the Airwaves,” which poetically describes a journey through sound waves. McMahon is both lead singer and pianist (yes, he uses a piano, not a dinky keyboard), which would seem to limit his movement and require him to remain seated with both hands on the keys. But that assumption would underestimate McMahon’s talent and energy, as the barely controlled singer constantly rose forcefully from his seat, one hand dancing masterfully on the keys, the other gripping the mic as his body shook to the music.

After playing a couple more songs off their album, McMahon took a few minutes to effuse to the audience about his sensations on being back in New York. Nervously running his fingers through his hair, his voice shaky with feeling, he created a personal connection with the audience that went beyond what most lead singers shout about – like declaring New York to be “the greatest fucking city in the world” and informing their audience that “this next song is about being in love”. The intimate nature of the songs contributed to this sense of familiarity, the optimism of “I’m Ready” contrasting with the melancholic “Rescued,” in which McMahon sings plaintively that he’d “prefer not to be rescued”. Knowing that the album was written during McMahon’s return home after touring with Something Corporate added an extra element of longing to the songs, which was buoyed with the intensity of a live performance and the unpretentiousness of its setting in Hammerstein Ballroom.

Over the course of the evening, Jack’s Mannequin played all the songs off their album, including the Christmas-themed B-side “The Lights and Buzz,” released only on iTunes. Midway through their set, Andrew McMahon spoke proudly about his past efforts with SoCo and proceeded to play two of their songs. A special treat for fans was his performance of “Heroine,” a balladic version of the popular “Punk Rock Princess,” which he sung alone on stage. Slowed down, the song felt sadder and more honest than in the more danceable album. In telling the song’s back story, he revealed his indifference to punk, ironic given the common tendency to classify SoCo as pop punk (and a reminder to those who would quickly dismiss a band on the basis of an industry label, rather than the genuine quality of the music).

When the band returned for their encore, McMahon launched into a cover of The Police’s “Message in a Bottle,” during which he leapt jubilantly around the stage. At one point, he clambered on his piano, much to the delight of his fans, and utterly redefined the instrument’s role in a rock concert. The set ended with “MFEO – Pt. 1 (Made for Each Other)/Pt. 2 (You Can Breathe),” an 8-minute celebration of hope, love and friendship. During a long interlude, McMahon let the drummer, bassist and guitarist show off their amazing skills, then told his fans that he had bet one of the stagehands that he could crowd surf to the rear of the ballroom and then back to the stage. And then he did so, jumping into a mad crush of people who eagerly passed him amongst themselves. Even though he didn’t quite make it to the back of the room, it was an amazing moment of artist-fan contact that served as an incredibly fitting way to end the raw, soul-baring, transcendent experience that Jack’s and McMahon had shared with us all evening long.

*On a personal note, I scored a sweet Jack’s tote bag and Coz got an autographed copy of the Jack’s songbook (autographed when he bought it, we didn’t actually get to meet him, alas. But thanks to crowd-surfing, we were inches away from genius.)


Anonymous said...

is there an east coast summer tour?

Sophia said...

not that I'm aware of - Andrew McMahon is from the West Coast, so he wanted to bring a little bit of their sunny winters to us east-coasters. But east coast summers aren't that nice - they're too hot and humid.