I have a pretty good idea of who my top 10 bands are, with the top 5 being permanent and the rest revolving every couple of years. On the other hand, I know who my top 3 favorite songwriters are and that will probably never change. Because as much as music can evolve and your tastes change, what connects you personally to a song doesn’t. You connect with certain musicians because of how they tell a story and the style they express themselves in. A certain style that resonates with you above others. And most importantly, how their experiences relate to what you’ve gone through in life. Up until now there have been two songwriters who resonate the most with me, those being Art Alexakis (don’t fucking get me started on Art Alexakis, I could write a novel) and Matthew Good (don’t fucking get me started on Matthew Good, I could write a love letter). In recent years, Andrew McMahon has been added to this short list. Andrew is part of a band called Jack’s Mannequin that started off as his own solo project after he wrote some songs that he deemed were too much of a departure from his initial band that brought him fame, Something Corporate. Last night, on a quiet Sunday after a weekend of Halloween shenanigans, Byron and I made our way downtown to a half empty Vogue Theatre to finally see him live after having been fans for years and years. Almost 17 hours later and I’m still in a musical haze that Andrew left me in after he gifted me with one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
Let’s talk about Andrew for a second here and why I find him one of the most inspirational people on our planet. Back in 2005, I was wasting some time on the internet when somehow I came across the song Dark Blue by Jack’s Mannequin from the first album he record, called “In Transit”. I loved the song so I got the album, and instantly connected with it. Something in the way this man belted out lyrics about heartbreak and hard times in a clear voice over gorgeous melancholic piano partnered with California pop rock was brand new to me. I remembered Andrew from Something Corporate and was pleased to see this solo project of his, so my curiosity as to why I hadn’t heard anything about this album till now of course led me to his website, where I was floored to discover the reason why there was no promotion being done. Because Andrew couldn’t. Because at the age of 23, three months before the release of In Transit, Andrew was diagnosed with leukaemia and was now currently battling it in the hospital. He eventually got a stem cell transplant from his sister and made a full recovery, and almost a year after the album came out, Andrew finally got to go on tour to play his songs live that he wrote years ago.
His second album, Glass Passenger, obviously was about his illness and recovery. It’s probably one of the most honest albums I’ve ever heard, and achingly beautiful. The songs are haunting, powerful, but most importantly, hopeful. And if there was ever a word to describe his music, it’s hope. Because Andrew has the distinct ability to write about all the hard times we go through, but reminds you every time that it will pass. It always passes. He doesn’t let you stay on the floor crying, he offers a hand to help you up and get a smile back on your face. Considering what this young man has been through already in his life, it’s no wonder he loves to sing and inspire his fans about getting back on your feet. But he does it in the most humble way. His songs provide realism, blunt honesty and exhilaration. Andrew’s love of music, pure talent and lease on life comes across in everything he does, and it’s why I admire him. This little video he did before the release of their current album, People and Things, gives you a strong idea of who he is, and why I love him. Take a moment to watch it before diving into my review.
Jack’s Mannequin, October 30th 2011 at The Vogue Theatre
The vibe was set from the second we got out of the car. The usual busy Granville Street downtown was bare, everyone was Halloween partied out, and not even a few brave souls were ready for round 3 on this Sunday. Byron and I got to the Vogue right at 9 pm, just a few minutes before JM hit the stage. Just enough time to grab a Sapporo beer and a good spot in the front. I love seeing shows at The Vogue. One of the oldest theatres in Vancouver, rich of history and perfect acoustics. They removed the first 3 rows of chairs to make some standing room, and it’s where most of us were. The theatre was only half sold out which I was surprised about. Like My Morning Jacket, I couldn’t understand why not more people were making the effort to see some of the most talented musicians currently in the industry. Baffling. Either way, the buzz in the air of those who did come out was exactly what Byron and I were feeling: the fact that one of our favorite artists was about to play his first headlining gig in Vancouver. It’s about fucking time. And when Andrew and the band came out, you could tell they were thinking the same thing. They proceeded to rip a tear into the quiet Sunday night air. Andrew was banging away on his big Spalding piano (festively decorated with skeleton shaped lights) like someone who hadn’t played their prized possession in years. His infectious positive smile and energy filled the parts of the room that were empty and made you feel like you were at a house party getting treated to the best private show ever. The setlist was perfect, with a great mix of new and old in a perfect pace. Highlights for me included some songs off Glass Passenger that I didn’t expect to hear, like “Annie Use Your Telescope” and my personal fave, “Caves”. I hadn’t had the time to give the new album, which was released this month, a proper listen so it was great to hear some of the songs for the first time live. One being “Restless Dream”, which Andrew played on his own with the help of 3 young gentlemen who were part of one of the opening acts (sorry didn’t catch which one!) as backing vocals. This performance made me cry. Andrew, you bastard. The sing along of one of his most inspirational songs, “The Resolution” was perfection, and Andrew’s giddy energy which involved climbing on his piano and high-fiving those in the front row only further proved his charming goofiness. This is a man who went through some tough shit, but does not let it define him. His banter between songs with the crowd and his bandmates brought the vibe of private party into full force. Dude is as real as you can get, from his hilarious deadpan “they say this theatre is haunted, I think it might be bullshit” or his guitarist and him comparing who has better special effects (guitarist with his orange lights around the mic stand and Andrew with his skeleton lights), I literally felt like I was sitting in a living room chatting with him and his buddies while they played in between.
One of my favourite things that can happen in a show, is when the artist is genuinely having a great time and feeding off his fans, when there is a wild special scent in the air that makes them want to keep playing for hours. That is what happened last night, and we were treated to a longer encore then usual and some old goodies, like Something Corporate’s “Me and the Moon”. When it was all over, I felt like Andrew had only been there for 5 minutes, I wanted the show to never end. My heart was full. Full of happiness. And that is what he does best. Jack’s Mannequin are a breath of fresh air, delivering songs that are both heart-wrenching and uplifting. With each new song they remind us of their amazing talent and a message that doesn’t come across as of late – hope.
NECESSARY JACK’S MANNEQUIN
Give it a try? Who knows, you might like it and have something new to discover.
Bruised from In Transit
This is a story we can all relate to, every word in this is a picture that forms in my head and I am there.
Hours pass and she still counts the minutes
That I am not there
I swear I didn’t mean for it to feel like this
Like every inch of me is bruised
The Mixed Tape from In Transit
One of the songs that made me love this band. The combination of ridiculous piano over the positive pop rock is what makes this band unique. Love that middle piano part. You’ll know it when you hear it.
As I’m swimming through the stereo
I conduct a symphony of sound
Where are you now?
As I’m cutting through you track by track
I swear to god this mix could sink the sun
But it was you I was thinking of
Caves from Glass Passenger
His ode to his cancer. Absolutely brutal. Absolutely fucking genius. The build up, his voice, everything. You feel everything.
I’m caught, somewhere in between
Alive, and living a dream.
No peace, just clicking machines
In the quiet of compazine.
The walls caved in on me.
And she sings, my bird dressed in white.
And she stings, my arm in the night.
I lay still, still I’m ready to fight.
Have my lungs, but you can’t take my sight.
The walls caved in
Television from People and Things
Put your windows down as you drive too fast on the highway.
You and I baby, we’re a broken record
Turn around, we’re making sound but only for the noise
And what if I could live like this but not forever
And what if you could move the needle to a more forgiving song
And what if this was never really broken all along
Restless Dream from People and Things *** can’t find this online to stream, here it is paired with a short film
Fuck you Andrew. And by that I mean, I love you. Hitting way too close for me, I can’t. That being said, brb listening on repeat for 4 hours.
Oh my imagination running wild
Guess I’ve missed you from the day that we first met
Crazy, this fascination makes us sound like a twister in my mind
The restless dream we left behind I never will forget