A Holiday From Real

On Friday I took the afternoon off from work, drove 70 miles in rush hour traffic, stood outside in line for an hour on a cold windy street, stood inside a dark crowded room for another five hours packed up against a corner where a stage speaker blasted me in the ear, returned to the cold dark street to wait some more, and ultimately left exhausted and hungry, coasting down the freeway back home at 1am.  It was one of the best nights of my life.

It’s no secret that I’m a massive fan of Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin.  I’ve been listening to the former since 2002 and the latter since my first day of college in 2007.  At no point during those years did I think that one day I would get to see the man behind those bands, Andrew McMahon, play a show on his own and perform the best tracks from both groups together.  Well that day was Friday, and it was absolutely fantastic.  I went into the concert, which was at Ace of Spades in Sacramento, with no expectations.  I had no idea what the venue was like, what Andrew was going to play, or even who his band-mates would be.

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Ace of Spades is a relatively small venue with a few bars, a large stage off in the corner, and an open space for concertgoers to stand and watch (and drink).  I got there an hour before doors opened so I had a pretty good position in the queue already formed outside.  Once inside, I ended up getting a spot on the stage barrier off to the left side, in the corner of the standing area.  The view was fantastic and I had something to rest myself on for the hour before the show though I was situated next to the left stage speaker set and I had forgotten to bring ear protection.  Oh well.  Eventually the opening act came out, a group called The Reel.  They were pretty good, though the sound mixing was a little off; I could barely hear the singer over the guitars.  As with most opening acts, I knew nothing of their sound beforehand so I don’t remember most of what they played, but there were a couple songs that really caught my attention (“Alisha’s Song” and “Robot,” to name two) and I intend to find them online.  During their act I could see Andrew peeking out from the door behind the stage, marking the first time I’d ever seen him in person.  It’s weird, seeing someone out in the world that you’ve so often seen in videos and heard in songs; they’re familiar, but entirely not so.

So after a brief 30-minute set, The Reel were gone and it was back to waiting at the wall.  During the set up for the show, several of the band members came out to adjust their playing areas and to the delight of the crowd, Andrew did as well to meet some family off to the side.  After another brief delay, the lights dimmed, they came out again, this time all together, and took their spots to play.

Andrew’s band was composed of half of Jack’s Mannequin (Jay and Mikey; drums and bass respectively) and three other guys (Zac, Joe and Jeremy; synth, rhythm guitar, and lead guitar).  They sounded phenomenal, even though my ear was already ringing from standing next to the speakers.  I’d been to a number of shows to see favorite bands of mine (Coldplay in 2005, Ben Folds in 2006, Barefoot Truth a few times) but this one was on a higher plane.  As soon as the first song began, Something Corporate’s “I Woke Up In A Car,” I was completely and totally engrossed.  As the show continued, I feel like I fell into a trance.  It was like a religious experience hearing some of my absolute favorite songs played out five feet in front of me.  “Me And The Moon”, “The Astronaut”, “Amy, I”; an eclectic mix of SoCo and Jack’s tunes, and I was loving every second of it.

It’s hard to put into words what this whole experience meant to me and what kind of impact it had, but just to show what my frame of mind was, I actually felt myself tearing up during “Hammers and Strings.”  I also leapt for joy the second Andrew started talking about a song that was purely about California (“Holiday for Real”) and couldn’t contain myself when, later on, he mentioned that his dad had always taught him to watch the sky.

There was no way I wasn’t going to record that.

When the band left the stage, the two hundred or so fans behind me began chanting Andrew’s name, only for him to return alone.  When he sat back down at the piano, he honestly quipped that he was going to come back anyway, to the delight of the crowd.  The instant he came out without the rest of the band, I knew we were in for something special.  However, I, and everyone I ended up talking to after, did not imagine that he would play “Konstantine.”  Andrew has famously made it a point not to play that song (or even speak its name for that matter) at Jack’s Mannequin shows for good reason; it’s not a JM song.  This night was different.  Even though 3/4 of Jack’s Mannequin was up on stage (the band emerging one by one as the song progressed), the unmistakeable arpeggios of Konstantine flowed out of Andrew’s piano and the crowd sang along with him, hanging onto every word.  I’ve been saying this a lot lately, but without a doubt it was nine of the best minutes of my life.

I would have been fine with the show ending at that moment (hell, I would have been fine with dropping dead right then and there), but they kept on going, knocking out two tracks from “Everything in Transit” before leaving the stage to the high energy vibes of “Dark Blue.”

As the lights came on I wandered around the front of the room, hoping to get one of the setlists from the stage, but I was out of luck.  I stood around near the merch table looking to see if Andrew would come out and meet us.  Everyone I spoke to there said he usually did, so I patiently waited.  Soon the event staff kicked us out onto the street, but we just kept on waiting.  I was hanging around with two girls I met inside, and along with us there must have been thirty others waiting outside.  The minutes seemed like hours on the cold Sacramento street, but eventually the man himself emerged from the doors, fans excitedly crowding around for autographs and pictures.  Soon it was my time to meet him, and I made my move.  I shook his hand and gave him a hug.  I wouldn’t have done less to anyone who’s shaped my life as much as he has.  I told him he was a personal hero of mine and thanked him for doing what he does, and he thanked me in return for my words.  We posed for a picture, shook hands again and I walked away in disbelief.  I hung around for a few more minutes as the girls I was with got pics and autographs too, and as we all left to grab some food, we walked by Andrew once again and he gave us all high-fives.

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Andrew McMahon is such an awesome guy.  He’s been doing this for years and still spent almost an hour meeting up with adoring fans after the show.  I still can’t believe all of this happened.  What a night.  Nothing could have made it better.

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