If life on tour as a globe-trotting artiste was not already strenuous enough, add kicking off your UK tour a day after 22 fans were killed and 59 were injured by a suicide bomber at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester and the nation’s terror security alert had just been elevated to a decade high ‘critical’.
As fans streamed in for Emmy-nominated frontman of Jack’s Mannequin and Something Corporate Andrew McMahon’s sold-out opening gig at west London’s Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush on 23 May, security checks were rigorous with two policemen flanking the popular music venue. American McMahon did his best to lift spirits with his soul-stirring brand of music described as “earnest, sun-kissed piano-pop”, by Billboard. And a healthy dose of humour and improvisation throughout his set; a pretend encore, an accordion accompaniment, and a live FaceTime with a fan’s girlfriend, Kate, who got the privilege to choose one of the evening’s tracks, Swim.
Antidote for terrorism
He implored the audience not to be cowed by acts of terror so that they are scared to venture out. “I refuse to be afraid. This is an antidote for what happened yesterday (23 May),” he said opening with Punk rock princess followed by rousing tracks like, Fire escape; I want to save you; All our lives, Swim; So close; and Cecilia which reinforced his message of love, defiance and hope. Couples snuggled up to each other and friends clasped hands tightly as his soulful voice soothed frayed nerves.
McMahon has his own against-all-odds story as an 11-year survivor of leukaemia and founder of the Dear Jack Foundation, one of the first Adolescent and Young Adult (AYA) specific cancer foundations in the US which advocates for and supports initiatives that benefit AYAs diagnosed with cancer.
Zombies on Broadway, McMahon’s latest album is a blend of piano-pop-rock and was listed as one of Music Week’s Key Releases alongside Sampha and Ryan Adams. The track was also featured on Spotify’s New Music Friday and McMahon debuted lead single Fire Escape on Jimmy Kimmel Live in late January. McMahon talks about New York City as the inspiration behind Zombies on Broadway – “I wrote this album in the middle of a whirlwind, when the future was unclear. I found my way to the city, thinking I could settle a score with a ghost. You can’t, so I came home and rewrote the ending,” he says.
Hope, the best medicine
There is no better prescription to look at the future with renewed optimism than in McMahon’s video for So Close. He plays the geeky oddball astronaut-wannabe selling ‘space-age treats’ on the street who literally falls head-over-heels in love with another goofy space groupy. Their story is told through some peculiar dance moves. The moral? Never give up on your dreams, however kooky.
Back on terra firma McMahon tells Billboard: “I figured what better way to follow up the Fire Escape video than with something twice as ridiculous. After so many years of making mostly serious music videos, I’ve been leaning towards getting weird and having fun with this latest batch. We took cues from the track and found our way to a pretty awesome dance party in the streets of New York. I manage to play a few roles in this one, but the most fun filming was definitely the green screen outer space sequence at the end.”
He signs off with an uplifting message to Grande and the Manchester victims: “To anybody who was affected by the violence and that horrible mess last night and to Ariana Grande who I can’t imagine how it must feel as a singer of songs knowing you lost fans at your show. Thank you London.” He takes his healing songs to Manchester, Birmingham and Glasgow. Perhaps McMahon’s consummate and sensitive performance is some consolation as the country struggles to find its voice again.
Security at live gigs and summer festivals
The carnage at the Manchester Arena and the recent targeting of entertainment venues like the Bataclan massacre in Paris by Islamist terrorists have raised fears about the safety of revellers and concert goers this summer. Venues like the Bush Hall where McMahon performed opened in 1904 and have remained the mainstay of the UK leisure and entertainment sector for decades and in other iconic venues for centuries.
I can’t pretend to understand the world sometimes but I am certain of this; It will be an honor to play for the people of Manchester 2nite.
— Andrew McMahon (@andrewmcmahon) May 24, 2017
Prime Minister Theresa May has sought to calm those fears stating on a visit to Manchester: “The police and others will of course be looking at the security of venues to ensure that people can continue to enjoy summer events, feeling secure and enjoy those events. What is clear, is that we are ensuring the resources are available for the police in order to be able to do the job that they need to do. This was a horrendous attack, absolutely horrific, barbaric in its nature, but what I am also clear about, is that we will not let the terrorists win. Our values will prevail.”
Andrew McMahon’s in the Wilderness’ new album Zombies on Broadway is out now.