Andrew McMahon In The Wilderness Turns First Avenue Into A Pool Party


A normal question I get from friends and people who know what I do in my free time is, “Doesn’t seeing the same band over and over again get old?” Well, the answer is complicated. For most bands the answer is yes. Although I may love their music and their energy, if their live show stays stagnant, then yes, I get bored seeing them and will typically skip them a couple of times if they come to the Twin Cities frequently. On the other side, there are certain bands that have a new show every time they come to town. Those are the bands that I could literally see night after night after night and not get bored with them. Andrew McMahon is one of those people and although I’ve seen him in Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin, and, most recently, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness over forty times, I will still go back every single time.

Kicking the night off was Grizfolk- a band that I’ve been wanting to see for some time now. Their unique blend of indie-folk and pop-punk made me a fan with my first listen and I was excited to see what they would bring to the table when it came to their live show. Although they only have one full length out and a spattering of EP’s and other various releases, Grizfolk had the audience getting in the mood to dance. The upbeat and sunny disposition of their music had the packed First Avenue Mainroom forgetting about the negative forty degree windchill outside which was an absolute treat. Their set was short lasting only about a half hour but it definitely packed a punch and if you walked into the show last night having never heard of Grizfolk before, you probably left with their name stuck in your head.

The set change was quick and before I knew it, Flor was taking the stage to a roar of applause from the eager audience. Hailing from Oregon, Flor was the band on this line-up that was a wild card for me. I feel like I have seen their name and maybe heard their music in passing while letting a playlist play at work but I really knew nothing. Much like Grizfolk, their music had a warm and fuzzy feeling to it which helped the audience continue to ignore the arctic tundra outside the doors. Cracking a couple of jokes here and there with both his bandmates and the audience, vocalist Zach Grace had a personality that shined even though he didn’t have much time to show it. Again, Flor’s set was far too short but definitely did the job and left a lasting impression on me. Their indie- rock sound may not have been completely out of the box or shocking but it was well presented and fun. This is a band I would love to see headline a show at a smaller venue to really get the full effect.

I must have been ridiculously anxious for headliner Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness to take the stage because it felt the the set change lasted no less than forty-seven years but as soon as the screen concealing the stage faded into the ceiling, that anxiety turned to pure bliss and as soon as Andrew took the stage I felt this undeniable sense of comfort and content. Andrew McMahon was the front man of Something Corporate. I still watch live footage of them in awe as I watch him pound away at his light brown upright piano. To see a pop-punker behind a piano was a huge game changer for me as a piano player and although I would never ever step foot on a stage, he made it cool to do what I do. Fast forward a couple of years when Something Corporate was no longer but replaced with Jack’s Mannequin. Much like my life, the music was more mature and about deeper things than being a punk rock princess to a garage band king. Zoom to now and Andrew is now in Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness- a project that continues to grow with the generation that used to scream “Fuck you Jordan!” along with Andrew. Not many things in life are constant and that’s even more true for music but Andrew McMahon is one of those figures that I (and a whole generation of angsty teenagers) grew up with and to see someone like that live is enough to make your eyes swell up with tears (okay, yes, I cried again. Damn nostalgia).

Although last night’s show was definitely in support of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness’ 2018 release ‘Upside Down Flowers’, the group did a great job of nodding to the nostalgia seeking fans. With a couple of Jack’s Mannequin songs and a handful of Something Corporate songs (including “Me and the Moon” which instantly brought me to tears), I loved the fact that nothing was forgotten. Sure, we have all moved on, Andrew and his bandmates included, but sometimes you need to relive those days of screaming about teenage angst and how hard everything is and heartbreak (because, let’s be honest, that never changes). Sprinkled into the moments of pure nostalgic bliss were the heartbreaking stories Andrew told about where he was when he wrote certain songs. An ode to his grandmother that he was able to play for her the day before she passed, a song about picking up and moving across the country and just hoping for the best- I mean, if you weren’t hit right in the feels with his commentary then you were either drunk or not listening.

The theme of the show was a pool party and although a pool party is the last thing on everyone’s mind, it worked and the sunny disposition that Flor and Grizfolk had set in place was expanded by the headliner. With giant sun umbrellas on stage and the entire band wearing what looked like summer and fun clothes, it was exactly what us frozen Minnesotans needed. A couple of songs in Andrew explained that you really can’t have a pool party without water so he threw out a blue parachute that the audience held over their heads and shook up and down to create a wave effect. Unafraid and being the just normal guy he is (seriously, having met him a couple of times now I can tell you that he is one of the most down to earth people I’ve met), Andrew jumped in the audience to swim around with the crowd.

I could clearly go on and on about last night. How Andrew kicked off the set by singing from the balcony or how he got a flat tire when he went into the audience and, because his drum tech had triple knotted his shoes, he struggled to fix it. There were the moments he would get on top of his piano and it would take your breath away and moments when his vocal talent had my jaw on the ground.

Nostalgia is a hell of a drug. A nostalgic band that has grown with you over the years is even more powerful. Yes, seeing the same band time and time again can get old but acts like Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness don’t.