It’s recently dawned on me that Andrew McMahon has been a near-constant presence in my life. From his time with Something Corporate then Jack’s Mannequin and now his latest project, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, his music has been scattered across my life soundtrack. And judging by his lively two full hours on stage Wednesday night, he’s not stopping anytime soon.
For anyone who grew up in this Warped Tour-era scene comprising pop punk, indie rock, alternative and all the sub-genres in between, this sentiment is relatable: going to an Andrew McMahon-led show feels like a homecoming. There’s still a sense of friendliness and intimacy despite the size of the venue and the grandeur of the stage setup.
It certainly helps when the supporting acts add to the atmosphere, which was the case for openers Grizfolk and flor. Grizfolk, the Sweden-to-L.A. five piece who is making a steady comeback with two new singles this year alone, is edging away from synths and focusing instead on organic instrumental elements. Early in the evening, their backlog of electronically-influenced tracks welcomed the eager arrivals.
Oregon-based flor followed with an endearing trial-and-error set of their signature evergreen sounds. Vocalist Zachary Grace introduced the band at least twice and thanked Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness for having them out on tour. It’s been almost a year since they’ve played venues after a whirlwind festival circuit last year that included Austin City Limits, Riot Fest, Firefly, and a handful of others.
“We really should have switched those two songs,” Grace admitted during the set, “and played the acoustic type ones back to back.” It’s small details like this, as well as the freshness and novelty, that make the first night of a tour extra special.
When the stage setup was finally unveiled, it was hard not to smile. Rather than claim the space is “artistically limiting,” Andrew McMahon brought an extra level (literally) to The Van Buren’s stage. There before us were all the elements of his latest album, Upside Down Flowers: the color palette, the big beach umbrella, and golden sunny lights.
“We’re just trying to bring some sunshine to cold weather places,” he said before admitting, “Today was pretty nice, though.”
The band jumped from catalog to catalog in the 25-song set, sprinkling in classics like Something Corporate’s “Punk Rock Princess” and “I Woke Up in a Car” while also jumping in and out of the Jack’s Mannequin anthology. There was even a Cher cover of “Believe” that was so strange and out of place but so fun nonetheless.
In between songs, Andrew McMahon told stories, some nostalgic and others sad. The crowd listened raptly until a key word or phrase revealed the next song, like when he was remembering packing up and leaving—wait for it—Ohio. And other times, the first notes gave it away, like “Fire Escape” and “So Close.”
Even the more mellow additions to the set become upbeat in the presence of a great entertainer like Andrew McMahon, and he throws himself so much into his music that he’s going to need a cocktail after the show, he said as he laughed. It’s like he’s wholeheartedly dedicated to his second chance at life and wants to pull out all the stops for himself and for his fans.
And pull out all the stops he did. Inviting the crowd to dance, he and the band closed out the main set with the ever-favorite “Dark Blue” from Jack’s Mannequin and a four-song encore including breakout single “Cecilia and the Satellite.” Giant flower-shaped lights were passed through the crowd to add to the outdoor summertime feel, and Andrew McMahon’s lit-up logo shone from above like a dazzling sun.
It might be January, but he very aptly sent us off with this: “Thanks for coming to our pool party!”
Get tickets to an upcoming Upside Down Flowers tour date here.
Donate to the Dear Jack Foundation here to support young adult cancer patients.
Story by Taylor Gilliam
Photos by Kyle Dehn