According to the Oxford Dictionary, personal space is defined as “the physical space immediately surrounding someone, into which any encroachment feels threatening to or uncomfortable to them.” Some people understand this, some don’t, and the rest are so euphoric about being let out of the house on a Saturday night that they simply don’t give a shit. The woman responsible for stepping on my foot multiple times throughout Andrew McMahon’s stellar showing at The Rapids Theatre falls under the latter, but, as Chris Rock said, why spend the next 20 years in jail because someone smudged your Puma?
I let it slide and chalked the incident up as another example of what happens when someone feels as if the artist is treating them to a private concert. After all, if you spend as much time devouring the live music scene as I do, you already know that these people are incorrigible.
But that’s what makes Andrew McMahon such a compelling presence. His fans feverishly anticipate each show like a Southern evangelical waiting on a Sunday sermon and shout his lyrics back to him as if they’re reciting passages from a teenage diary. The early-2000s pop-punk poetry of Something Corporate was their Beatles and McMahon was their Paul McCartney. No matter how often he rolls through the area, the emotional attachment that western New York fans continue to have to this material suggests that casual listeners are few and far between.
Seizing the stage around 9:30 p.m., he dove headfirst into “Everything Must Go,” “The Mixed Tape,” and “Love and Great Buildings” without any signs of needing a moment to find his rhythm. Some artists take a few songs before hitting their stride, but McMahon has reached a point in his artistic maturity where his performance arrives on stage fully formed. He just goes and goes until exquisite compositions such as “Dark Blue” and “Fire Escape” come along to wallop the audience into submission.
Being surrounded by a band featuring Zac Clark and Bob Oxblood has strengthened the sound while also affording him the freedom to tackle more ambitious arrangements with each passing year. As the chemistry grows, so does the expectation that every album will be stronger than the last.
I never heard a note of Andrew McMahon’s catalog until 2015, but I respect the fact that the journey from “Ready…Break” to “Upside Down Flowers” wasn’t driven by anything other than his personal evolution. He beat cancer, got married, and had a daughter all within a decade, circumstances which understandably deepened his perspective to the point that he wouldn’t be writing “Punk Rock Princess” anymore. Sure, he still plays it live, but it feels more like a sly nod to his past than an accurate reflection of where he’s at in 2019.
Grizfolk and Flor both did an admirable job of trying to win over the crowd with their engaging alternative vibe, but neither band has a “Cecilia and the Satellite” in their back pocket yet. Perhaps the experience of this tour will propel them down the road, because, if they’re searching for inspiration, they have a front row seat to one of the best.