photo by Mina Lee
Whether or not you’re familiar with the name Andrew McMahon, you’re probably at least vaguely familiar with his voice. Frontman for early-2000s punk rock band Something Corporate and later Jack’s Mannequin, McMahon has been a prominent force in the alt-music scene for over ten years. Neither SoCo nor Jack’s Mannequin are together anymore, but that hasn’t stopped McMahon from continuing writing and touring.
Now under the alias Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, the thirty-two year-old released a self-titled album in 2014. Though the new album’s sound is more indie than the California pop-punk vibes consistent in his old work, it contains the same catchy piano-based melodies and nostalgic, hard-hitting lyrics.
Last Thursday, McMahon stopped by the Twin Cities to play a free show sponsored by Cities97’s Oake on the Water. Even as a huge fan, I’d never seen McMahon live before, so finding out that I’d be able to see him play an acoustic show at the relatively small Bayside Grill in Excelsior was pretty much the best news of my life.
When I arrived at Bayside at about 2:45 Thursday afternoon (Andrew was scheduled to play at 5), the place was already packed. The show had been moved inside due to bad weather, and the crowded, sweaty restaurant made it even more evident how many people were there. Preceding McMahon’s set was local Minnesota band the 4onthefloor, who, though very different stylistically than McMahon, put on a fun show.
Before McMahon got on stage, he made his way through the crowd, taking pictures with and talking to as many people as possible. By the time he actually made it onstage, the excitement shared by everyone in the room was tangible. All the reviews I’d ever read or heard of McMahon’s shows, both with a full band and solo, were glowing and positive, so obviously I was expecting a good show.
But he completely blew me away.
For just one man on a piano (with another member of AMITW on an additional keyboard), he filled the venue with the musical force of an entire band. The set was nearly perfect. Starting with “High Dive,” a track off his newest release, he played a set that was pretty equal parts new and old songs. Highlights included “Dark Blue,” “Maps for the Getaway,” and “21 and Invincible.”
My personal favorite though was “I Woke Up In a Car.” A hit from the Something Corporate era, it’s always been a song I’ve held close to my heart. Joining the crowd singing “I’ve never been so lost, I’ve never felt so much at home”, the words felt truer than they ever had before. As he approached the end of the bridge, Andrew stopped and the crowd sang back the final line: “I am all alone.” And when everyone around me echoed that line, I experienced a rush I’m sure many others did too; that feeling of intimate connection in a room full of strangers, and reassurance that whatever life throws you, the music will always be there to pull you through.
The set ended with “Cecelia and the Satellite,” his most recent hit, and just like that it was over. But the lingering feeling and pure happiness I felt throughout the set stayed for the rest of the week. For an acoustic show in a packed restaurant, he made it feel so intimate, and made an obvious effort to make everyone feel involved and connected to the music. Though the set was fairly short, it was definitely a performance no one present is likely to forget any time soon.