Artists: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Ella Vos
Venue: The Hotel Cafe
Date: October 12, 2022
Last Wednesday, I was treated to an intimate performance at Hollywood’s Hotel Cafe by Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness. Celebrating the release of his latest single “Skywriting”, McMahon dug out deep cuts from throughout his long career in music, including tracks from his earlier projects Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin, along with stories and humorous anecdotes, for an evening that truly felt special for those in attendance.
Opening for McMahon that evening was his friend (and album producer’s wife) Ella Vos. Taking the stage with a charming humility, Vos opened with a song inspired by her child, “White Noise”, and then moved into the lovely “Dreaming Backwards”. Vos introduced most songs in her set with short notes about their inspiration, attributing some like the somber “Down in Flames” to her ex, and then dedicating the romantic “Superglue” to her current husband. She also introduced the new song “Glitter and Tears” for the first time, which just came out last Friday. Vos’ style of mildly quirk, pop-leaning, piano-forward songwriting puts her in the realm of artists like Regina Spektor, and it was a very pleasant start to the evening.
McMahon took the stage in a full yellow jumpsuit. The once-boyish frontman is now a bearded family man with a few grey hairs showing through. Nonetheless, there was still a youthfulness to the spirit and humor in his performance that evening. Beginning with “Canyon Moon” and “Paper Rain”, McMahon made it clear that he had spent time practicing some songs that hadn’t made any set lists recently, and he took his own mistakes in stride with a good-natured self-deprecation. And luckily for him, he clearly had a room full of hardcore fans in attendance, so even when he forgot lyrics on the first song, the audience was quick to remind him and help him along.
This interactivity with the audience made the evening stand-out and feel like a unique experience. The show also happened to be a day after the announcement that Something Corporate would officially be playing next year’s When We Were Young Fest, so McMahon pulled out a few SC songs throughout the evening, starting with “The Astronaut”. The audience seemed especially excited to hear some of these oldies, which McMahon discussed writing them twenty years ago here in Hollywood. He then moved into Jack’s Mannequin‘s “I’m Ready”, showing that anything from his catalogue was fair game that night.
When discussing the WWWY fest, McMahon revealed the last-minute nature of finalizing the band’s inclusion. Per McMahon, on Monday evening at 9pm PST, his agent called to tell him they were announcing the line-up the next evening, and he needed to confirm that Something Corporate would be playing, despite their deal not being finished. McMahon had to scramble to reach the other band members so as to get their “okay” to make this decision. He was only able to reach Kevin “Crutch” Page, who on behalf of the rest of the band gave McMahon the go-ahead.
Other industry anecdotes would be delivered later preceding a performance of “Release Me” (McMahon’s plea to get out of his WB Records deal). But for the most part, the evening was not about the music business – it was a celebration of the release of his newest song “Skywriting”, which he gave his first live performance of ever, after revealing the song came to him after a psychedelic trip and a writing session with K. Flay. The room then got into sing-along mode for “Annie Use Your Telescope” and “Fire Escape”, which McMahon instructed everyone to provide the chorus for.
One of the evening highlights for me was the performance of “House in the Trees”, the moving track from 2018’s “Upside Down Flowers”. I always loved this track, and while I would have loved to hear “Ohio” as well, this was truly a deep-cut evening. McMahon then brought out Ella Vos back out to join him on his other new song “Stars”, which he revealed was inspired by a fight with his wife after an evening where he refused to dance with her. Another special moment was the return of “Woke Up in a Car”, a great Something Corporate track that brought me back to my college days.
“Love and Great Buildings” was a sincere ode to architecture, and was paired with “Built to Last” to pack that romantic one-two punch. Audience singing returned with McMahon’s hit single “Cecilia and the Satellite”, from which he faked leaving the stage (if you know the Hotel Cafe, there’s not really anyplace to go), and then quickly returned and took an audience request for “Hammers and Strings (A Lullaby)”. While I would have loved him to close the show with the Jack’s Mannequin cut “Swim”, I wasn’t surprised that he chose the bigger hit “Dark Blue”.
Though I’ll admit I was not as familiar with most of the deep cuts chosen for the setlist this evening, the show was still memorable on all fronts. If you haven’t listened to it yet, be sure to check out McMahon’s latest single “Skywriting“, and Ella Vos‘ “Glitter and Tears“!