MANCHESTER DEAF INSTITUTE 24/05/2017
Andrew McMahon writes on his website that his hero is Billy Joel. Next month McMahon travels to Ohio and Wisconsin to support Joel on his current US tour. Joel’s influence may not have been apparent in the first few emo-punk albums of his career, but tonight at the Deaf Institute, supporting his solo In The Wilderness project, McMahon is every inch the piano man. He doesn’t move from behind his instrument, leaving his only fellow musician Zak, dressed in a puritan hat, face framed by long beard and longer hair, to provide visual excitement. In keeping with his appearance tonight, Zak brings a welcome Americana flavour to the songs, playing accordion, organ and percussion. Without these elements, it seems the songs would lose their impact. Yet each time a shaker came in for a chorus, McMahon’s keys and vocals were elevated and the music became quite enjoyable. The pair’s harmonies were very well executed. On the whole, the musicianship was accomplished, and the songs were well-structured, though devoid of any kind of innovation.
The jauntiness of McMahon’s vocal delivery grates at times, in a way that serves to remind me why I could never quite bring myself to hop on the Darwin Deez bandwagon. The sparse opener complete with lilting accordion, called to mind The Band’s “Rockin Chair.” Yet McMahon’s reputation as a One-Tree-Hill soundtracking soft-pop songwriter was upheld by much of the material. However the third song tonight was a nugget of convincing Americana, with simple lyrics like “wasting weeks beneath the sun,” which I find a little unimaginative but which fit McMahon’s style. Perhaps I was suffering from a bit of brain-fade at this point, having been treated to an exclusive listen to Black Grape’s upcoming album at Fab International Radio earlier in the day. It’s brilliant, funky, nostalgic – and, mercifully – Shaun Ryder’s lyrics are as guaranteed to raise a smile as ever. But Black Grape might well be lost on Andrew McMahon’s sold-out crowd tonight, a crowd who lap up his anecdotes, and sing along with even his newest material.
McMahon recognises their reaction and emits humility with his response, enthusing “No one knew this tune last time we came. You blew my head off with your singing just now.” And corny though his lyrics may be, at least he acknowledges it, even introducing a song which contains the line “I cross my legs like a girl” with a self-deprecating story about its origins. This strange, geeky charm must be what has won Andrew McMahon such a strong following on this side of the Atlantic. McMahon followers seem very dedicated. Sounds photographer Stu and I made friends with a very lively fan who had come all the way from Norway for the gig. “I love Jack’s Mannequin, they were my favourite band!” She even found a way to dance in the absence of a backbeat. Though at times the lack of percussion and statuesque crowd made the gig feel a bit like a Sunday morning hymn singing session, the man has something that a lot of people like. So it can’t be fully dismissed. If it makes them happy, long may it live.