Last Friday I trekked it to Greensburg, PA to see Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness at the Palace Theatre. I’ve been a fan of his for a little over ten years, and I’ve seen him six times now. Too many? Never!
If you’ve never heard of Andrew McMahon, his story is just as amazing as his music. He started playing piano as a child and has had a few different musical projects in his career. In his late teens he was signed to a punk/pop/emo label, Drive-Thru, with his band Something Corporate. A little over five years later, he formed a new band called Jack’s Mannequin, which was more alternative rock. Just after his first album with Jack’s Mannequin was released, he was diagnosed with leukemia at the age of 22. In response to his diagnosis, he created a charitable foundation called the Dear Jack Foundation, which supports adolescents and young adults diagnosed with cancer. As of today, he is 12 years cancer free, and is the frontman for his new project, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.
Andrew’s current tour is called The Pen and the Piano tour. This show is completely stripped down to only keys, guitars, and voices. Totally raw. I’m not sure what I expected when walking into this elegant theatre, but it wasn’t a set similar to the Mr. Rogers living room. And when the lights finally dimmed, the Mr. Rogers theme song came on. Andrew McMahon walked through the set door, put on his sweater, changed his shoes, sat cross-legged at the very edge of the stage and then all the lights went off. Two seconds later a very small lamp turned on next to him and he started playing “Love and Great Buildings” from his latest record on a small synth.
As the show continued, artists Allen Stone, Zak Clark, and Bobby Raw weaved in and out of the set, ringing the doorbell and being boisterous, as if they were just in the neighborhood and wanting to play some music with their friends. Andrew talked a lot about what each song was about, how they came to be, or where his life was at the time he wrote them. I was sitting in the balcony pretty far back, but it felt like I was sitting in a friend’s living room. To create such an intimate space at a sold out show of 1,300 people is not just a talent, it’s a gift. And the crowd was louder than he was at times.
I’m thinking another six times seeing Andrew McMahon still will not be enough. When you see an artist perform as if the passion is coming out of their pores, there is no reason to stop seeing them.