Union Chapel, just off Upper Street, is a late 19th Century, Grade 1 listed working church adorned with gothic revival style architecture, an organ dating from 1877 and beautiful stained glass windows, and filled with ornate, yet very uncomfortable traditional wooden pews. Perhaps not an ideal venue then, you might think, to watch a show by a man who cut his teeth in a pop punk band. This is where you’d be wrong.
Andrew McMahon, singer-songwriter of pop punk kids Something Corporate, the vision behind emo-rock band Jack’s Mannequin, and author of newly released and more synth-lead EP The Pop Underground, is adored by fans around the world for his skilfully crafted songs and ability to perfectly capture emotion in his writing. It is then, actually quite fitting that for an evening of acoustic music spanning all three incarnations, he play in a venue of worship.
Whatever your feelings on the idea of ‘worshiping’ a band or singer, it is this theme which is most prevalent throughout the evening, as from the moment McMahon steps out onto the stage, to be greeted only by a solitary piano, the atmosphere is spine-tingling, alive with that magical sense of togetherness and awe usually reserved for an evangelical churches’ Sunday service.
Location aside, there is something of an almost religious lilt in feeling to the evening; having beaten leukaemia in his early 20’s, Andrew’s songwriting – and this is particularly evident in new song ‘Synaesthesia’ which he debuts tonight – reflects the joy to be found simply in living and in being thankful for all that you have.
That said, it’s not all about a sombre appreciation of life, and the set tonight contains many moments of playfulness, for example when McMahon stops ‘Holiday from Real’ to apologise for singing about buying weed from lesbians, in a church. It seems the effect of the venue isn’t lost on him either. Comprised of 15 years worth of songs, the set tonight goes down a storm with the crowd, albeit a storm in a quiet, church-like manner. From old Something Corporate song ‘Watch The Sky’ through Jack’s Mannequin classic ‘The Mixed Tape’ to new track ‘Learn To Dance’, McMahon’s incredible talent as a songwriter is evident throughout, and the audience listen in hushed admiration. Whether it’s the location they’re in, or the acoustic nature of the evening, there is a very real sense that everyone is holding themselves back, despite knowing every word McMahon is about to sing.
It isn’t until ‘Konstantine’, a nine minute epic and long-standing fan favourite, that the crowd really let themselves go and it ends with rapturous applause and a standing ovation. After thanking them for being so respectful of the venue, McMahon, very politely, asks for a bit of crowd participation for finale ‘La La Lie’, and is granted nearly two hours worth of repressed excitement and appreciation in the form of a mass singalong and never-ending applause – you get the feeling that if the crowd had had roses to throw, they would have.
It’s been a while since Andrew McMahon last toured on these shores, and as the audience file out, awash with the sense that they’ve just borne witness to something very special, you can’t help but pray that he doesn’t leave it so long next time.