Andrew McMahon at the 9:30 Club

Indie rock singer/songwriter Andrew McMahon performs at DC's 9:30 Club. Photo: Andrew McMahon

WASHINGTON, May 8, 2013 —At this point in his career, Andrew McMahon has become a reasonably well known songwriter.  Although he’s best known for being the front man for bands like Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, and while that might give the impression that he’s just another member of either of those bands, one gradually gets the sneaking suspicion is he’s actually the driving force behind both bands’ musical output. Performing as a solo act, as he recently did at DC’s 9:30 Club, brings this notion very much out into the open, particularly as he launched into an array of songs covering his entire time as a musician, dating from the early ‘00s.

While McMahon is the primary creative force behind pretty much everything he does, each project he undertakes possesses its own separate entity. Everything he does fits somewhere on the pop/rock spectrum, and it’s all driven by the force of McMahon’s skill as a pianist.  Something Corporate, for example, clearly fits into the indie rock niche, but with McMahon’s skills in evidence, everything keeps moving towards a completely piano driven singer/songwriter territory.  Yet the influence is surprisingly subtle and really only becomes apparent when the songs are played in a continuous stream.

But there’s a reason why McMahon has his personal, distinctive line of music. He’s the kind of songwriter who’s seen enough variations on his own theme that he’s become an institution and an influence all his own. That’s why if someone likes Something Corporate, they are most likely going to like Jack’s Mannequin, and eventually find they’re buying into Andrew McMahon as an artist they’re already familiar with.

As a songwriter, he becomes whatever someone needs him to be. Once a listener has bought into McMahon’s persona, he has them hook, line, and sinker. It’s effortless for nearly anyone to rock out when he’s playing “Straw Dogs” from Something Corporate’s first full length album Leaving Through a Window. It’s just as easy as well to get lost in the driving piano in “Dark Blue” from Jack Mannequin’s Everything Transit.

If you’re not in on the story, it’s especially curious to imagine  all these songs might be coming from different sources because, if you really listen, they don’t really have radically different vibes. Sure, a lot of McMahon’s Something Corporate material is more guitar-driven. “Punk Rock Princess” in particular featured McMahon singing on top of his piano while the band swirled around him – and focuses slightly less on his piano playing.

But on the other hand, Jack’s Mannequin actually focuses the spotlight on his piano playing.  But if anyone was unfamiliar with Andrew McMahon beforehand, it would be difficult to tell Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin apart one McMahon’s singular influence became obvious


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Still, on the night he appeared as himself here, the sold out crowd at the 9:30 Club wasn’t there to hear a showcase of the bands Andrew McMahon had played in. Rather, they were there in  celebration of McMahon himself along with his considerable songwriting talent. These songs feel like the vision of a singular voice. The fact that they’ve been performed with different bands simply reflects the different points in his life.

That sense was never more apparent than at the point where McMahon decided to end the show by playing “Konstantine.” This has been a popular song among fans since it was released and it’s also a song McMahon has been reluctant to play because of its personal nature. It’s a swirling, intimate epic of a song that clocks in at nearly 10 minutes, all of which are distinguished by a clear and emotional narrative that hits close to the heart.

The song is technically credited to Something Corporate, but it’s always been associated strictly with Andrew McMahon. It also encompasses everything about McMahon as a songwriter, starting off quietly on the piano before building into a definite rocker. Since it sums up the essence of McMahon, it’s clear why his fan base has adopted it so enthusiastically.

This personal connection is why fans of Andrew McMahon will sell out his shows regardless what band he performs with, or even if he simply plays a solo set like he did this time around at the 9:30 Club. He’s able to tap into the smallest moments of life and make them feel larger than they actually, without devaluing the contribution of each. In capturing these moments, he connects to anyone listening to him and makes any one of his songs feel like a most personal affair. This is why he’ll continue to remain relevant to his fans no matter what path he takes.


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Stephen Bradley

Stephen Bradley is an avid music listener and an occasional writer.  He grew up in the Washington DC area and has been embedded in the local music scene for years.  Currently he lives in Vienna, VA.   He enjoys bands that have been broken up for at least a decade.

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