May 27, 2013

Andrew McMahon: Bring the Chapel Down

             As my friend and I arrived at Union Chapel, Islington on the evening of May 22nd, a crowd of worshipers had already gathered outside. Surprisingly, they were not your typical devotees of God, but with music as their religion, they were ready to sing the words of their savior. In this case, he came in the form of Andrew McMahon. 

             McMahon, a singer, songwriter, and pianist, was involved in bands Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin and also performs solo. After alighting from Highbury and Islington tube station, the chapel is impossible to miss with its looming steeple emerging from the surrounding trees. My friend and I decided to have a quick drink before the gig and we wound up at a quaint pub just oppositeIf there was ever a time to be reminded of why I loathe tequila so much, it was while sitting in The Library stealing a sip of my friend’s margarita. Just as the salt granules gritted and dissolved against my teeth, it was time to join our fellow worshipers at the sold out show. 

             The seating arrangements worked on a first come, first serve basis, with people filing into the available pews. My friend and I managed to grab a spot in the center a few rows from the back. The interior décor was nothing short of stunning, with the sun not yet set and still beaming in through the stain glass panels. When the pews were all occupied downstairs, people started making their way upstairs for a bird’s eye view. The chapel was transformed in a very surreal way, with clutch bags taking the place of Bibles and hymnals, and chips and drinks being sold in the aisles.

             Opening act Fort Hope were an appropriate choice to prelude McMahon’s set and played with minimal equipment. Lead singer Jon Gaskin incorporated original and cover material with a voice that echoed immense range and pitch. When McMahon took the stage, his yellow sweater mirrored the still radiating sun. With a raw and stripped down performance, McMahon was accompanied only by a piano. The venue contributed by affording the audience the acoustic reverberations. The atmosphere that encapsulated the crowd was one of reverence, a mood that even McMahon alluded to. He apologized in advance for any swearing in the chapel (it didn’t do him much good) and expressed his delight at being back in London.

             With McMahon being the only illumination in the chapel, all eyes were fixated on him and the intensity that flickered across his face. He borrowed songs from Something Corporate, Jack’s Mannequin, and his individual material, including songs from his recently released EP, “The Pop Underground.” It was easy to target the true fans just by listening. At certain intervals, the crowd’s voices almost merged with McMahon’s as they sang along in unison. One woman went so far as to break the norm and stand up for most of McMahon’s songs, while others started up the obligatory concert clapping. McMahon’s light-hearted demeanor and conversation shone through in his evidently breezy, natural interaction with the audience. 

             I will admit I did get a bit emotional during the gig, but with themes that are so relatable on a human level, it felt inhuman to not be affected. McMahon’s lyrics have the ability to make you truly feel something. He shared that “Rescued” is about that silence on the phone after you’ve broken up with someone and have nothing left to say. “Synesthesia’s” lyrics briefly discuss the success of the band Fun., friends of McMahon who he also opened for on tour. McMahon continued on to speculate, although cheerily, why he hadn’t received any music awards yet, and we all wondered the same.

             McMahon closed on “Konstantine,” a Something Corporate song coming in at an astounding nine minutes and 36 seconds long, but not feeling at all long enough. Now that’s what I call talent. Amen.

             View McMahon's official website here for tour dates and tickets, music, and more. 

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