It was late in the summer of 2002 when I first heard Leaving Through The Window, popping the CD into my modest Honda Civic sound system. It was my introduction to a unique piano rock-band by the moniker “Something Corporate” (often shortened to SoCo) with a 19 year-old Andrew McMahon as its helm. My mom had recently lost her battle with cancer and that little shiny disc had become a soundtrack for dealing with, and escaping from, my grief. Too many times I care to recount, I sat in my car in my early twenties, blasting it, crying.
I owe Andrew McMahon a lot. And judging from the sea of bundled-up Florida folks who packed the Beacham on a frigid November evening, I’m not the only one who feels this way.
When the members of Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness (AMITW) jogged out from the curtains to their respective instruments around 9:15 pm Wednesday night, I was stationed next to the front of the stage between a mom and her 10-year old daughter–which gal was giddier? It was hard to tell–and a new friend named Tiny, a prodigious fella who works as a bouncer, but had taken the night off to see McMahon.
Inhaling a welcome mixture of fog-machine vapors and faint whiffs of stale beer, I smiled and tried to forget the 5 am alarm set on my phone. I was eye-level to–and about 20 feet from–the legs of a grand piano which framed the toe-flapping shoes of the man we’d come to see: the former lead singer of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, and currently a solo act with an accompanying band.
The four-man AMITW wasted few precious breaths, starting in immediately with the soothing ‘Oooh’s’ of “Canyon Moon,” a nostalgic “California Dreamin”-esque song off the self-titled Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness debut album. It’s a tune that McMahon co-wrote after spending time in Topanga Canyon, with a repeating verse urging us over and over again, “Take all your troubles. Put them to bed.”
So we did.
An unburdened crowd beamed with delight. Squinting, looking over my shoulder, I saw fans of all sizes, their faces were tiny stars to me; a crazy constellation of dots. We were all connected by the young, old-soul performing on stage.
Many of us had grown up with Andy. For over a decade, he’d taken us on an emotional journey, from one band to another, through various albums of underground pop, to a shocking leukemia diagnosis, and his subsequent scary battle when he was merely 23 years old, to a successful bone-marrow transplant from his sister and then to a triumphant full recovery. We’d been with him through the lows and highs, screaming his heartfelt lyrics at the tippiest-top of our lungs. He wasn’t just a musician. He was our muse. He was our friend.
And on a day (or Wednesday night) just like any other, Andrew artfully made monochromatic keys sing, his knees bowing in and out as they tried to keep up with his furious fingers. He squirmed and kicked his legs in his seat–bent over, standing, sitting, then standing again. The laid-back California native crooned and moved with the unbridled energy of a 4-year old refusing to sit still in a chapel pew, and with the zealousness of a man who’d been to hell and back. McMahon was on tour spreading his gratitude gospel, stopping in briefly at Church Beacham.
“Orlando, you’ve always been so good to me,” he said, after he’d quickly enraptured his captive audience with a crowd favorite, “Dark Blue,” off of Jack Mannequin’s debut record Everything In Transit.
“You guys are always so fucking awesome.”
Two songs in, and we were feeling the love. And we loved the love. Years before, I’d seen him in concert, during the Jack’s Mannequin tours. With McMahon, it never felt like a standard statement a rock-star gives at all his concerts, it was always genuine. “Thank you,” he told us.
No, thank you. We owe YOU, man.
Twelve years after first hearing Leaving Through The Window, the singer-songwriter took me back when he performed SoCo favorites like “Woke Up In A Car” and “Cavanaugh Park,” but this time with much happier emotions.
After an alternate version of Jack’s Mannequin’s “Bruised,” followed by AMITW’s “High Dive” and “All Our Lives,” Andrew told us it was time to slow it down. His band exited and a spotlight silhouetted the outline of a man seated at grand black Baldwin in what was meant to be a solo rendition of “Holiday From Real.” However, he quickly gained back-up singers. Unprompted, the crowd chanted the opening line before he could start, “I’m on the verge, I’m on the verge…” The man behind the microphone giggled out loud, “How about you guys? I’ve got the boys and girls choir of Orlando right here.” Later, McMahon joked about the struggles he’s had in the changing subject matter of his lyrics over the years, “I got married. I had a kid. How the fuck do I talk about that in my songs?” quipped the guy who had logo-ed baby bibs for sell next to his albums at the merch table. Then he performed “Rainy Girl,” a lovely, sweet song he penned for his daughter Cecilia four months before she was born. That’s how, Andrew. In the encore, we were treated to a raucous version of “La La Lie” replete with a McMahon harmonica monologue and his orchestra-conductor direction to join him in “I’ve got friends who will help me pull through” as his feet played the final notes and he climbed on his piano still singing into his mic. When he came back to earth, he stepped into the pit with his fans for an appropriate “Synesthesia” sing-a-long. “Grab your wings, they’re putting gravity on trial” echoed as bodies jumped up and down around him.
That’s the deal with this dude. With him, you don’t get any bullshit. No cheesy histrionics or hackneyed stories. You simply get sincerity and passion.
He’s just really, truly thrilled to be alive; to be doing what he loves. So he strides atop his piano like it’s a surfboard, waving his excited arms. He pushes his hair from his eyes–hair that chemo treatments had once taken from him–and cradles his head with his hands, smiling in disbelief of the palpable electricity in front of him. He lets us in. He lets everyone in. He wears his heart and his soul on his long-sleeved shirt, rolled up to a quarter-length, exposing a wrist tattoo that reads, “Everything is a river,” referencing karma and how everything comes full circle.
Well, it came full circle for me that night. And, I imagine, for others too.
The last song before the band left the stage before the encore was “Cecilia and The Satellite.” The first single from his AMITW record with loving lyrics of a new father, it was preceded by Andrew playing another role, one as our gracious host.
“Thank you for coming. Thank you for leaving your troubles at the door and being present tonight. It means a lot.”
For that, and for all the other times his words (and his life) have inspired and helped me, I’m pretty sure I owe Andrew McMahon.
Andrew McMahon Live Review by Dena Davis.
Andrew McMahon Live Photos by Adam Fricke.
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