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Andrew McMahon of Jack's Mannequin performs live at Sound Academy on Jan. 31, 2012 in Toronto. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Concert review: Jack’s Mannequin tour a ‘transit’ down memory lane

The house lights were killed at 9:15 p.m. and were replaced by a wave of nostalgia as Andrew McMahon took the stage to play every track from the Jack’s Mannequin album “Everything in Transit” in celebration of its 10th birthday.

I batted my eyelashes at a security guard who eventually let me snag a spot on stage left where folding chairs were allowed. I had a clear view of McMahon stomping on his piano keys with his Chuck Taylor’s during “Holiday from Real.” I had a stellar view of him basked in blue light while swooning the crowd with “Dark Blue.”

In the past, I have seen McMahon perform as Jack’s Mannequin, Something Corporate and Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, and the largest reactions always come from songs off the album “Everything in Transit.”

The converse chords were quite audible, but there were times, especially during “The Mixed Tape,” where it was hard to hear some of the token piano riffs that set his music apart from other alt rock. The electric guitar was very overwhelming, but the vocals made up for what was lost from the piano. McMahon’s singing sounded like the vocal stems ripped straight off the record.

And the backup singers, wow. I’ve been to a lot of shows and I have never taken notice to supplementary vocalists until last night. While slashing their instruments, the bassist and guitarist provided some very complementary and extremely on-pitch vocals that filled out the sound quite nicely.

Contrarily, 21-year-old me sang, way off-pitch, just as loudly at the venue as 14-year-old me did in my bedroom when I was mad at my parents for not letting me go out with my friends on a school night.

During a brief pause between songs, McMahon likened the 10th anniversary album tour to “a walk down memory lane,” and I feel that was an accurate description of the night for him and also for his adoring fans. Looking around at the crowd, most people sang along to every word of every song. Much like myself, they probably grew up screaming, “f— yeah, we can live like this” with their friends as they drank their first wine coolers in 10th grade.

McMahon, the piano rock king himself, commandeered the stage with his solo cup in hand much like your retired uncle does his couch for “Monday Night Football.” Two microphones hung over his piano, and the way he swung between them both while his hands traveled up and down the ebonies and ivories looked like second nature for him. And after 10 years of performing these songs, I’m sure it is. It truly felt like he was just sharing music among friends.

Even the aesthetics of the show added to the humbleness of it. The five-member collective stood in front of a very modest star-shaped LED light and a backdrop of twinkling lights. All five men wore toned-down ensembles, the drummer simply sporting a red polo.

Ten years ago, right after the album came out, McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia. Other than knowing “Everything in Transit” was “going to be special from the start,” which he commented last night, this record is a bookmark in his life for when things were changed forever. McMahon went on to beat cancer and has since used his platform as a singer to create change. The humility of last night’s show rang truest when McMahon brought young adults and adolescents who are battling cancer on stage to help him sing “La La Lie.” An organization was present at the concert last night that registered people to become bone marrow donors — a procedure that saved McMahon’s life.

After they performed “Everything in Transit,” McMahon and his band played other popular songs from his career including “Swim” and “The Resolution.” To button the night up, McMahon let his lanky body fall into the crowd and sang every verse of “American Girl” by Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers without faltering as he rolled across a sea of hands.

I can’t speak for the piano he stomped on all night, but I think last night was a holiday from real that everybody needed.

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