Jack’s Mannequin + Scars on 45
: 12 November 2011 - Pomona, CA
It’s common for artists to become more jaded as they age, but Andrew McMahon walks in the light -- and on top of his instrument -- these days.
Maybe they weren’t looking for one, but Generation Y has found its heir apparent to Billy Joel in Jack’s Mannequin’s Andrew McMahon. Like the Piano Man before him, this 29-year-old is as much a storyteller as he is a mere musician. From the moment he made a name for himself in the emo/punk-pop scene back in 2002 with his first band, Something Corporate, McMahon has had a knack for spinning yarns that transcended the puppy-love lyrics of most men at a tender age.
He’s sung of circuses and childhood playgrounds in which "there was never any place for someone like me to be truly happy." With Jack’s Mannequin’s debut in 2005, the pop opus Everything in Transit (Maverick), he was telling tales of palpable suburban boredom. He was almost too good at this sort of narrative – though the tunes were hummable and seemingly perky, there was a weighted darkness behind them.
"I’m on the verge, I’m on the verge," he lamented in "I’m Ready", a standout track on that album. Ready for what: adulthood? A break from the doldrums of a life on tour? To stop being exalted as a pin-up front man?
Six years and two records later, he’s changed his perspective. Veiled disdain for all that he was becoming has matured into a reverie for life. Lyrical proclamations such as "I’m alive" litter his oeuvre now (See 2008’s The Glass Passenger for prime evidence of this shift). And those words, culled from the radio-ready "The Resolution", felt ever more poignant in concert at the Fox Theater in Pomona. When Andrew McMahon declares, "I’m alive," he means it with every ounce of his being.
Because he almost wasn’t.
At 23, he was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Figuratively surviving one’s early 20s is difficult enough, but he battled something so traumatic, he was forever changed - for the better. Once his surgery proved successful, McMahon emerged as a young phoenix. The flames of negativity were below him.
Though a staple of his stage show since the Something Corporate days, when he now climbs atop his piano and sails into the pit of adoring fans, it feels symbolic. Some frisky girls still paw at his chest as though he were Justin Bieber, but mostly the audience welcomes this sage narrator like a homeward-bound soldier deserving of a ticker-tape parade.
They gathered to hear his tales from the front lines of his own personal war. Certainly, the other Jack’s members – especially the blazing guitarist, Bobby "Raw" Anderson – held their own, but it’s McMahon’s project. He exemplified such when it was just him and the piano onstage. The power ballad "Swim" was transformed into a haunting confessional that brought even a few hoodie-wearing hard-nosed men in the crowd to cry. And "No Man Is An Island", a b-side from JM’s latest, People and Things (Sire), might be the most beautiful love song released in 2011. Originally dedicated to Anderson and his new bride, McMahon adapted it at this concert for his own loyal wife, Kelly.
The whole gig was very much a love-fest. Supporting act Scars on 45 mentioned the musicians’ significant others numerous times, and singer Danny Bemrose informed the Fox that guitarist Matt Baxter and bassist Stuart Nichols were caught spooning in a San Francisco hotel after a night of imbibing.
This English outfit’s sound was enrapturing: Think the immensity of Arcade Fire mixed with the sentimentality of Stars, and you’ve got Scars on 45. Theirs was an extremely complementary performance to the heart-on-the-sleeve exuberance of Jack’s Mannequin.
It’s common for artists to become more jaded as they age, but Andrew McMahon walks in the light – and on top of his instrument – these days. Either way, he’s come out on top of tribulation, and his followers are there wholeheartedly to cheer him on.