At 9PM on a Monday evening, singer-songwriter Andrew McMahon walked onto the Highline Ballroom stage with a set of handwritten posters. Seemingly pulled from a Wes Anderson movie, the completely silent McMahon used the giant note cards to make introductions (“Hello…I’m Andrew”), define expectations (“Tonight you’ll hear lot’s of songs…some old..some new”), and lay out the evening’s ground rules (“singing-dancing-clapping…go for it!” and “requests are for karaoke bars!”)
The Glass Passenger‘s “Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)” opened the evening. Over luscious chords and a soothing melody, McMahon’s lullaby was a farewell to an old piano from his first days of touring. Jack’s Mannequin guitarist Bobby Anderson joined for “The Mixed Tape”, a pleasant surprise that added depth to the rest of the set.
Fulfilling his poster promise of “old songs”, McMahon reached back to 2003 to perform “As You Sleep” from Something Corporate’s North. Great performances of “Crashin'” and “Holiday From Real” followed, and McMahon took a break to tell the story of “Annie Use Your Telescope”, a song written during a tour in Australia. “She Paints Me Blue”, another cut from North, was preceded with a story about the song’s origins: McMahon moved out of his parents’ house for the first time and one of the decorations for his new apartment was a blue light, which painted his depressed mood during that time.
Audioboxer EP‘s “Walking By” received the lengthiest explanation of the evening, with McMahon explaining the song’s “Cheshire cat doorstep”, an actual brick doorstep that his older siblings dropped on his head when he was younger. A rarely performed ballad, McMahon explained that although the song is one of his favorites, its slow-paced structure didn’t fit into Something Corporate’s “punky” tours in 2001 and 2002 when it was released.
A charming cover of Bob Dylan’s “Just Like a Woman” preceded “21 and Invincible”, a song McMahon said he wrote after being made fun of by his older brother. “Dark Blue” and “Bloodshot” followed, the latter of which McMahon remarked is about “climbing a mountain”.
“Moon River”, made famous by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, received interesting treatment (the song is, despite McMahon’s best efforts, most certainly out of his vocal range). “West Coast Winter”, an older version of “La La Lie”, was the last song before McMahon walked off stage to take a breather.
“Heroine”, written for a girl whom McMahon took to a Face to Face concert, began the five-song encore which also included a cover of Bikelock’s “Olive”, a project between ex-River City High members Anderson and drummer Jay McMillan (both of whom now also play with Jack’s Mannequin). “The Astronaut” was dedicated to McMahon’s mother (in attendance with his sister); “Bruised” closed out the evening. The full set:
Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)
The Mixed Tape
As You Sleep
Holiday From Real
Annie Use Your Telescope
She Paints Me Blue
Just Like A Woman (Bob Dylan cover)
21 and Invincible
Moon River (Johnny Mercer, Henry Mancini cover)
West Coast Winter (La La Lie)
Heroine (Punk Rock Princess)
Olive (Bikelock cover)
Taking six songs from the Something Corporate era, McMahon pleased old fans and new fans alike with his exhaustive twenty-one song setlist. With help from Anderson, the true beauty of McMahon’s songwriting became evident when songs with often over-the-top production stood well up to the stripped-down acoustic test. Certainly, McMahon excels when he’s with his band on stage in front of thousands, but sometimes a quiet intimate evening with the songwriter is a pleasant change of pace. A portion of the night’s proceeds went towards the charitable Dear Jack Foundation.
McMahon returns to the area a few more times in October, including a solo session at Bowery Ballroom, a Jack’s Mannequin concert at Rutgers University, and a Dear Jack screening at IFC Theater.
Photos courtesy of Cristina Velasco
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