Jack’s Mannequin w/Allen Stone, Jukebox The Ghost
Wednesday, February 8
Better than: The $7 Bud Lights on sale, marketed generically and dimensionally as “12oz beer.” Cool story, Irving Plaza!
People were packed into the helpless rectangle of Irving Plaza, walled off from the stage by a barricade and a thin photo pit yet still within intimate distance. Jack’s Mannequin frontman and pianist Andrew McMahon said a few times during the night that he chose to play at Irving Plaza because of the closeness of the stage to the crowd. I was in the photo pit for the first song; within seconds McMahon had leaped over me to the barricade, where he could selectively merge with the crowd.
That was a connective element to the show: McMahon’s ecstatic leaping. From his chair, onto his piano, into the angled arms of fans, with a weird exactness. Otherwise he was gliding insanely along his piano as if the two movements were interrelated. McMahon’s music has a grounding warmth, even while it is manic. There’s a feeling of home, of being understood by a familiar place; all the while McMahon darts through hooks. When spotlights retreated from the stage, the musicians were mostly amplified by modest lamplight, one over McMahon’s piano, another behind bassist Mikey “The Kid” Wagner, implying the warmth of home.
The importance of place resonated with McMahon well into the show. “When I started getting well again, one of the first things we did was play a show at Irving Plaza,” he said. He started playing the song “Caves,” which sort of starts out of nowhere, just small travels along the piano, up and down, seven minutes ahead to cover.
In late May of 2005 McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia, abbreviated as ALL so it can seem neatly remonstrative in a sentence. What happens with ALL is white blood cells multiply and aggregate in unformed, destructive ways, overwhelming the inside of bones, pushing health out. McMahon documented his hospitalization and recovery, and he released it in 2009 as a documentary called Dear Jack, toughly narrated by Tommy Lee. “I started really feeling tired,” McMahon says in the film, and the early symptom had at first seemed a sum of touring for two years with his old band, Something Corporate. He saw a doctor; the doctor invited him to get some blood work. “I had a third of the blood that my body was supposed to have,” McMahon says. There is a YouTube video from around the release of the first Jack’s Mannequin record, Everything in Transit, where McMahon updates fans from the hospital. “I’m feeling good, I feel well,” he says, his head covered by a towel. “The idea is that you hang out for a couple weeks after you do your first round of chemotherapy and then they see your counts basically rising.” From here he transitions to a practical concern, the first Jack’s Mannequin album, a solid completed thing, with controllable density. “Obviously the record’s still coming out,” he says. The record company committed to the August release date, despite McMahon’s inability to tour.
“Caves” is the only Jack’s Mannequin song to directly address his hospitalization. McMahon rockets up and out of himself and then drops back in suddenly, microscopically, into emerging bone: “And out here I watch the sun circle the earth / Marrows collide in rebirth.” The song follows him, into and out of bombast, gravity shifting. The enormity of his diagnosis, the smallness of the error in his body. A year from his hospitalization he wrote on his blog, “While I’m so thankful for every moment I am alive, I have to admit that at this second I feel more vulnerable to the world around me than I could ever put into words. It is an intense thing to feel so connected to the ground I am walking on and still feel so temporary.” Last night McMahon leaped to his feet during the song’s second half, when it makes an insistent shift toward dread: “The walls are caving in/ The doors got locked for sure/ There’s no one here but me.” But the song is more about the strange, mutant freedom that accompanies the dread, when your options are traumatically downsized (“But I see these doors have keys”). McMahon looked as if freed, less vulnerable to the world than remarkably open to whatever it might bring.
Critical bias: I had a nervous breakdown in September 2008, when the second Jack’s Mannequin album, The Glass Passenger, came out.
Underheard: Requests for “Konstantine,” a nine-minute Something Corporate song loved in a disruptive way by MacMahon fans, were strangely absent. One dude to my left yelled “Something Corporate!” but otherwise there was an interesting silence concerning that band and their song.
Random notebook dump: Two couples, weirdly clustered and familiar with each other, made out through the set, next to a barricade and an array of instruments from the opening bands. Which seemed odd, as if I were in a smaller venue without rooms for these things.
Annie Use Your Telescope
Holiday from Real
Hey Hey Hey (We’re All Gonna Die)
The Mixed Tape
My Racing Thoughts
Kill the Messenger
La La Lie