Pianist/vocalist Andrew McMahon has spent the last 15 years in the spotlight with his beloved bands Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, but recently decided to start recording under his own name. Still, the veteran performer knows exactly how to balance all facets of his musical life: The 30-year-old’s first-ever solo show in Cleveland last night at the Grog Shop was a celebratory, career-spanning storytelling session.
To the delight of the sold-out crowd—which sang along, shrieked in delight and pumped their fists enthusiastically to nearly every song—the 19-song-set touched on the early-’00s emo-pop of Something Corporate (the Ben Folds Five-esque “Me and the Moon,” power-pop gem “Watch The Sky,” wistful “Woke Up In A Car”) and the more mature rock of Jack’s Mannequin (“Holiday From Real,” shoulda-been-a-hit “The Resolution,” slinky “What Gets You Off”). Other highlights included the SoCo rock rager “If You C Jordan” and the Jack’s rarity “Keep Rising,” as well as an encore rendition of the epic piano-heavy ballad “Konstantine,” a fan-favorite McMahon only recently started playing live.
McMahon’s backing band (which included drummer Jay McMillan and bassist Mike Wagner, both of Jack’s Mannequin) never overpowered his expressive vocals or evocative piano. In fact, their presence helped guide the new McMahon solo songs “Synesthesia” and “Learn To Dance,” both of which featured electronic flourishes and synthesizers.
McMahon was in a jovial mood, standing on top of the piano (and crouching so he didn’t hit the Grog’s ceiling) before “The Mixed Tape” and mentioning how Ohio always feels like one of his “home states” because he lived in Bexley growing up. During the final song, “La La Lie,” McMahon even crowdsurfed to the back bar, did a shot of Jagermeister and then crowd-surfed back to the stage to finish the song. The gesture was an exclamation point on a triumphant show.
California-via-Alaska singer-songwriter Kate Earl opened with a half-hour set of tasteful acoustic rock driven by her smoky, emotive voice. Battling a crowd more interested in chatting than listening, Earl did her best, pulling out a lovely cover of the Black Keys’ “Little Back Submarines” and solid new songs such as “Stronger.” Still, the performer seemed frustrated by the loud conversation; during the last few songs of her set, she sat down on the stage to perform and disappeared from view. A more intimate setting, such as the Beachland Tavern, would no doubt suit her better next time.