On Friday, Andrew McMahon’s 40th Birthday Celebration took place in Orange County with special guest openers, The Juliana Theory. Andrew McMahon is the pop-punk veteran that fronted Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, along with his most recent project, Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness. It was no surprise to see the VIP ticket option for this show sold out rather quickly, and it seemed that by the size of the crowd the show was close to a sell-out as well.
Since we were experiencing a record-breaking heat wave in Southern California, it was nice to have a little rain on this muggy Friday night. Upon leaving the warm drizzle and entering the air-conditioned shelter of the House of Blues Anaheim, I quickly made my way through the large crowd of people that were eagerly awaiting the start of the show.
When I first heard The Juliana Theory’s 2000 full-length, “Emotion Is Dead,” I instantly fell in love with it. Admittedly, it had been a few years since I had listened to this album and I was surprised numerous times during the set by songs that I had completely forgotten about. There was no mistaking singer Brett Detar with his cobalt blue hair and towering stature as he took the stage. I had the pleasure of seeing The Juliana Theory with Something Corporate back in 2003 and I was feeling quite a sense of nostalgia in the air. Hearing some of my old favorites like “Into the Dark” live again gave me goosebumps.
Before the band went into one of their catchiest songs, “We’re at The Top of The World,” Detar referred to the poppy nature of the song by joking that it belongs in a Disney movie. One of the most memorable moments in their set was when they went into “Motion Is Dead, Pt. 1,” a somber, effects-heavy, piano-driven song with electronic drums that eventually crescendos into “If I Told You This Was Killing Me, Would You Stop?”
I also really enjoyed seeing them perform “Is Patience Still Waiting.” The Juliana Theory put on a fun, energetic show and I look forward to seeing them the next time they’re in town. Check out the official music video for their latest single, “Playback 99 (Burn the Cassette Deck),” and their latest EP, “Still the Same Kids, Pt. 1.” You can also catch them at Riot Fest in Chicago this weekend.
The crowd eagerly watched for any sign of Andrew McMahon as his sticker-covered piano was wheeled to the front of the stage. While looking around me, I noticed that most of the nearby people appeared to be in their mid-late 30s, a crowd that would have likely been in high school during the height of McMahon’s pop-punk era, with his time in Something Corporate. As the lights dimmed, the crowd expectedly cheered with excitement. I didn’t anticipate a circle pit, but the energy in the room could have fooled anyone at that moment. Orange County had undoubtedly missed McMahon and the crowd’s reaction made that fact no secret.
McMahon took the stage with a giant smile on his face and it became immediately apparent that he was there to have fun, and we were all in for a good time. As he sat down behind his piano and played the opening chords to “Birthday Song,” he immediately captivated the audience’s attention and I couldn’t help but think, “What a perfect opener” for his birthday celebration. The song began to slowly build up with concomitant rhythmic drums and tambourine until the escalation reached a peak with the full band coming in. “It’s not your birthday” is repeated throughout, and it was a well-placed reminder that McMahon was the man of the moment.
September 9, 2022
The reverse, ambient feedback swells of Jack’s Mannequin’s “Bruised” began to emanate through the pillar of speakers that dangled from each corner of the stage and the crowd readily prepared themselves for the ground-shaking sing-along that was about to follow. “I’ve got my things, I’m good to go. You met me at the terminal” are the opening lyrics that almost every person in the venue was singing along to. It was obvious at that point that he wouldn’t be shying away from Jack’s Mannequin songs and would likely be interspersing songs from all his past projects. He powered through the first few songs of the set which included Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness crowd favorite “High Dive,” and the ferociously catchy Jack’s Mannequin song, “The Mixed Tape,” a powerful pop-punk anthem that most anyone who is a fan of this genre has certainly heard and sang along to at some point.
Throughout the night, McMahon offered an interesting backstory and insight into many of the songs in his set. He told a story of a time when he was staring out at a skyline of century-old buildings and how it was a great metaphor for the love that he has in his life, which perfectly segued into the opening piano riff of Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness’ “Love And Great Buildings.” The piano-heavy Something Corporate song “Punk Rock Princess” was next in the set, and offered some much-appreciated nostalgia for the 30-somethings in the audience.
Among the many stories told, McMahon explained he had reached out to each member of Something Corporate to ask them to come to celebrate his birthday that night. As he sat behind his piano, spotlights directed down on him while he told this story, a buzz filled the room. A sudden chain reaction of screams spread throughout the crowd as the members of Something Corporate slowly spilled onto the stage. It was a heartwarming moment as the guys quickly gathered for a group hug, seconds before McMahon started into “Konstantine.” If this show were a college house party, this was the moment someone bashed through the front door with a full keg. It felt like the celebration was truly underway as the crowd chanted back every lyric. The members of Something Corporate accompanied McMahon for the next five songs as they pleased the crowd with their timeless pop-punk classics “I Woke Up in A Car,” “She Paints Me Blue,” and “Hurricane.”
The members of Something Corporate exchanged places with the members of Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness, and the opening piano line for “Dark Blue,” immediately put the crowd on their toes. The set came to an apparent end as pink and blue beams of light scattered across the stage, and the expected final song of the set, “Cecilia and the Satellite,” started. In my personal opinion, this is one of the most timeless songs of the past decade and a song that will be ingrained in my subconscious forever. This was the perfect closer for such an amazing night but as the lights dimmed and the band exited the stage, it was apparent that the crowd expected more.
McMahon came back onstage and the encore was underway. He reminisced about his younger days sitting around the radio, listening to KROQ, and how the music influenced him. One of his favorite artists from that era was Cake and he performed a very well-done and energetic cover of Cake’s “The Distance.” His voice works excellently against the fast-paced aggressiveness that is the groovy backing music but was still somewhat of an odd choice to include in their set. The song “Synesthesia” was second in the encore, followed by Jack’s Mannequin’s “Crashin.”
Looking back, I’m not sure a fan could have asked for a more well-rounded setlist. The true end of the set was among us as the band jumped into what would turn out to be the most fun song of the night; Jack’s Mannequin’s “La La Lie.” The cheery, harmonica-heavy tune was such a great choice and way to end the show. Dozens of beach balls bounced around the room, and as I looked on in amazement from the back of the venue, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching the end credits scroll by for one of the best movies I had ever seen.