Jack's Mannequin Reminds Listeners Why Live Music Rocks

Jack's Mannequin rocked out at the Westcott Theater Tuesday night for a Jack Daniel's promotional event and hit audiences harder than the Jack and Cokes. But in a good way.

On Tuesday, November 3, Jack’s Mannequin reminded me of why I love music.

They were engaging. Though I was familiar with their style, I wasn’t with specific songs and lyrics. It didn’t matter.

They were energetic. Lead singer, Andrew McMahon pounced on the baby grand’s keys and marched around the top of the piano more than once.

They were exceptional. There was nothing ordinary or boring about the entire show. Whether a die-hard fan or a JM virgin, the performance was outstanding.

Jack’s Mannequin performed at the Westcott Theater on behalf of another Jack, Jack Daniels. It was a promotional event for the whiskey offering patrons games to play, prizes to win and Jack to drink. Unfortunately, the alcoholic selection was not ideal for me considering the only thing I hate more than Jack is coke. But the good music in my ears made up for the bad taste in my mouth.

JM’s style was instantly likable. It’s the kind of morphable piano rock that can be tender and sincere or driving and heavy, but works either way. One moment McMahon would be jumping off of the piano and pacing around it. The next, he would sweetly croon into one of the two mics he had up to his mouth. Yet, no matter how he communicated the lyrics, he did it with his entire being. You could see him placing every ounce of his fidgety self into every note. His fingers attacked the keys, his words pumped into the mic and his feet squirmed around the bench, floor and nearby speaker. It was like his skin was crawling, but he had to keep playing, so he just wriggled and jerked himself around to fight it off. Though his movements looked uncomfortable at times and his face would scrunch into a grimace occasionally, you could tell he was having a blast. He was sweaty, animated and so much fun to watch.

So was the rest of the band, but for different reasons.

McMahon, in flannel and tight tan jeans, and the piano were center stage and surrounded by his black-clad band members. Bass player Jonathan Sullivan was on the right, guitarist Bobby Anderson to the left and drummer Jay McMillan was raised, center stage behind the piano.

The stereotypes the members fell into throughout the show were amusing. Sullivan and Anderson framed McMahon well and McMillan sat smiling, happy and totally ignored behind the rest. The guitarist ripped his riffs hard, but was more thoughtful than ostentatious. The bassist was the typical cool, quiet and intent, but never looked like he was working too hard. His intermittent shots of Jack right out of a gigantic glass bottle that he chased with a Corona added to his chilled persona. Even, the little Spiderman figurine hanging from his guitar strap and the toys (literally: Mr. Potato Head, Hulk figurines, etc.) sitting atop his amplifiers made you wonder what cool inside joke he wasn’t telling you. The drummer only had the swirling lights illuminate his bushy head of hair a few moments out of the entire show while McMahon had colored light dancing on his shoulders the whole time.

Though it might sound like McMahon was just hogging the spotlight, it didn’t come across like that in the show. It seemed natural that this frenetic front man would draw the attention, regardless of the lighting situation or stage positioning, so why not embrace it? Each member was extremely professional and gave the clear impression that they’ve done this whole show thing quite a few times (3 times in Syracuse just this year). They embraced their position among the music and it worked beautifully.

The play-list consisted of many songs from their 2008 release, “The Glass Passenger” and a few older favorites like “ The Mixed Tape” and “Dark Blue” from 2005’s “Everything in Transit.” Their sound was significantly bigger and more satisfying in the old theater than any recording, which is refreshing in an era of studio bands that don’t sound anything like themselves live. Jack’s Mannequin was better live. The way it should be.

JM ended with an encore of “American Girl,” which they (thankfully!) performed without insulting Tom Petty. In fact, they made him look pretty good for writing such a killer song.

I left refreshed. As the crowd exited, I heard murmurs of “that was the best show I’ve seen in a LONG time…” and I felt lucky to have been a part it. JM was fun, lively and one of the best live bands I’ve seen in a long time, too. Though McMahon didn’t set the piano on fire (friends who have seen him with Something Corporate saw it happen) I was happy with what I got. Though it would have been badass, I still left feeling pretty good.

Like I said, it reminded me of why I love music: because it’s such a damn good time when the musicians get it right.

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