Andrew McMahon is as lively a performer as I’ve ever seen and knows how to put together a setlist better than anyone else. The piano man concluded SPA Day 2017 Friday night in Alumni Hall with openers Young Rising Sons and a mixed tape of throwbacks and new songs that entertained the crowd of students on a chilly Friday night.
Young Rising Sons started the concert but unfortunately had to eschew a few songs from their planned set because the show got started later than intended. The band started with a song you’ve probably heard, “High,” and powered through another seven or so, including a cover of “I’ll Stop The World and Melt With You,” and ended with their new song “Undefeatable.” Overall Young Rising Sons was an energetic opener that got the room pumped for Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.
When McMahon and his crew took the stage at 11:15 nobody was sure what he was going to play first, or play at all. McMahon has been in a few groups over the years — Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin, and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness — and though each band’s songs have their own identity, most fans know something from all three.
Those who came for the throwbacks were lucky from the get go. The set started with “All Our Lives” from McMahon’s first album with the Wilderness and moved into a Jack’s Mannequin classic, the angsty “Dark Blue.” If McMahon could he would prohibit sitting while playing the piano; he spent most of the set bouncing between the two mics he had surrounding him at the keys and kicking his stool over so he could stand while he played.
Rolling between the 2000s and now, McMahon went for another Wilderness song, “Canyon Moon,” before diving back to Jack’s Mannequin’s “Holiday From Real.” He told the audience of the lesbians he used to buy weed from in California, which inspired the song’s first verse:
She says I’m much too thin, she asks me if I’m sick, ‘what’s a girl to do with friends like that?’ She lets me drive her car so I can score an eighth from the lesbians out west in Venice.
McMahon then powered through two more songs from the first Wilderness album, “High Dive” and “Maps For The Getaway,” before gracing the crowd with the world live premiere of his new song “Walking In My Sleep” off his upcoming sophomore album “Zombies on Broadway.” Admitting it was the band’s first time playing the song live, McMahon had to restart once but was perfect the rest of the way through.
The show then took a slower turn, going back to another Jack’s Mannequin classic, “Swim,” followed by the more upbeat “Bloodshot.” A classic piano man at heart, McMahon lugged a grand piano on stage but wasn’t afraid to hurt it, not only pounding the keys but actually jumping on the top of the lid and the keys themselves.
Another Wilderness song, “Halls,” preluded a Jack’s classic that McMahon admitted wasn’t on the setlist: “The Mixed Tape,” which you’ve also probably heard if you had an angsty high school phase. “The Mixed Tape” was the first Andrew McMahon song I had ever heard, so as a long-time fan getting to hear it live was a real treat.
McMahon then juxtaposed the throwback with another song off his upcoming album, “Fire Escape,” and then juxtaposed himself even more by breaking out the Something Corporate jam “I Woke Up In A Car” (sorry, not “Konstantine“), a song released almost 15 years ago in 2002. I saw some Something Corporate fans in the crowd, proving McMahon’s developed a life-long fan base even from kids who were only 7 when the band existed.
The energy in Alumni Hall really picked up when McMahon broke out a multi-colored parachute and played “Synesthesia.”
“Remember when you were a little kid and you would play with those giant parachutes in gym class and it seemed like nothing else mattered?” he said. “The world is kind of fucked up right now, you have to admit it’s just a little bit fucked up, so for a few minutes let’s just have some fun.”
McMahon even joined the party under the parachute, singing and dancing around with the crowd.
Even though Alumni Hall was rocking, McMahon slowed things down with another throwback in “Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby),” a Jack’s Mannequin song about McMahon’s first love: the piano. This was the first song of his three-song “honest encore,” where he admitted the band could leave the stage and pretend the concert was over, waiting for fans to beckon them back, but instead they just stay on stage and keep playing.
McMahon’s final two songs for the night were harmonica-laden “La La Lie” and ever-popular “Cecilia and the Satelite,” which the crowd was happy to sing along to. Overall the show was one of the most enthusiastic I’ve seen in Alumni Hall and SPA really scored getting two great acts to come to play at Penn State.