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Jack’s Mannequin Celebrates The End With Final Benefit Shows

November 15, 2012 1 comment

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Jack’s Mannequin, Matt Thiessen – November 11th, 2012, El Ray Theater, Las Angeles 

Farewell shows are tricky. When is the last time you heard someone say “I can’t wait to see my favorite band breakup and play their last show”? Unless Weezer was involved, the answer is probably “never”.  Unfortunately, breakups happen, and once the shock of the split has passed, the rush to grab tickets to the farewell performance begins.

The news that Jack’s Mannequin was calling it a career after seven very successful years did not come as a surprise to those who followed the band. Lead singer/mastermind Andrew McMahon had hinted that the band would be disbanded in numerous interviews prior to the announcement, and even the most die-hard fans had to admit that the Jack’s Mannequin moniker had had a pretty good run.

Starting as a Something Corporate side project in 2005, the group’s debut album Everything In Transit had struck pop-rock gold, helping to swell McMahon’s already sizable fan base and generating radio and TV success with lead single “The Mixed Tape.” This success came despite the fact that McMahon was busy battling leukemia when the album was released.

After winning the battle and hitting the road to promote the album, the band’s success would continue through the release of 2008’s The Glass Passenger and 2011’s People And Things. 

Speculation as to why the band was calling it quits didn’t revolve around the typical factors. For one, it has always been understood that McMahon is the man in change and controls the artistic direction of the band. It is therefore unlikely internal strife played much of a role. While the group’s meteoric rise had slowed a bit of late, People And Things had been well received by fans, and the ensuing tours had sold out large clubs around the country.

According to McMahon’s rather cryptic breakup message, it seemed that he was simply tired of writing songs as Jack’s Mannequin, and instead wanted the freedom that a solo career would bring. He had gone on record as saying that he would continue to play JM songs at live performances, so the farewell shows the band scheduled for November 11th and 12th in Los Angeles weren’t exactly the last time we would hear from McMahon.

In addition to being the band’s last two performances, these shows would serve as a benefit for the Dear Jack Foundation, which McMahon had created in 2006 to help fight the effects of young adult cancer. The two nights would end up raising a very impressive $50,000 for the charity.

I was lucky enough to score tickets to what was originally scheduled to be the final JM show on 11/11. The second show was added after ticket sales for the first night crashed servers and caused an uproar among fans who hoped to catch one last glimpse of the band.

Our tickets allowed us the chance to see the band’s sound check before the show, which was a 45 minute affair where the band played a number of complete songs and parts of others. McMahon joked with the crowd during the session and then signed autographs afterwards. It was a great way to give fans more access the band while raising money for the foundation. Tracks included “The Mixed Tape,” “Spinning”, “Annie Use Your Telescope” “Amy I”, “Bloodshot” and pieces of “Restless Dream”, “Hammers And Strings,” And “MFEO”.

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Once the entire crowd made their way inside the 700-person capacity El Ray Theater, the night began with a set from Matt Thiessen. The Reliant K front man was the only opener, and he said he was “honored” to be joining JM for their final performances.

Thiessen started off on the piano with a handful of Reliant K tracks that many in the crowd seemed familiar with, including “Be My Escape” And “Sadie Hawkins.” He then moved from the piano to an acoustic guitar to perform a number of solo tracks he had recently written, including the country-inspired “Pot of Gold”, which earned quite a reaction from the audience. To close his set, Thiessen was joined on stage by Jack’s Mannequin guitarist Bobby Anderson for a cover of Toto’s “Africa.” Anderson expertly hit the high notes during the song’s instantly recognizable chorus, and the pair received a big ovation as they left the stage.

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Between sets, Dear Jack Foundation Executive Director Steve Smith appeared to thank the fans for their support and to give an update on the charity. He introduced Erik Cwiertney, representing the Matt Cwiertney Memorial Foundation, a charity that provides cancer patients iPods with pre-loaded playlists that include artists such as McMahon, Dave Hause, Matt Costa, and many others. Cwiertney explained the “Matt’s Mixed Tape” iPod program and thanked the Dear Jack foundation for their support of the endeavor.

Shortly afterwards, the red curtain that had blocked the stage was drawn, revealing Jack’s Mannequin, already at their posts and ready to start the show with “Holiday From Real.” Beginning with the opening track from their debut album, this was the perfect way to start the night. The band would stick with upbeat, early album tracks until the show’s fifth song, “Annie Use Your Telescope” slowed things down a bit.

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Thiessen made his way back on stage for “Amy I,” which McMahon explained the two had written together during their time together at Thiessen’s Nashville home. Thiessen was not the set’s only special guest, as the band was also joined by original bassist Jonathan Sullivan, aka “Dr. J.” for a number of songs, including the bass heavy crowd favorite “Bloodshot.”

While there were few surprises in the setlist, the band displayed more energy than I had ever seen them bring to a show, and the addition of Thiessen’s second guitar on a number of songs only added to the atmosphere. The crowd returned the group’s energy, singing along and cheering loudly at the conclusion of every song.

“Hammers And Strings” and “Dark Blue” would serve as the final two songs of the set. While both tracks have been live staples for years, these farewell performances seemed to breathe new life into both. After the band left the stage, the crowd begged for more, and McMahon and company were happy to oblige.

Before playing the first song of the encore, McMahon addressed what he called the “elephant in the room”. He apologized for the fact that this was not the final JM show, as originally promised, and he justified it by saying the second night had raised an additional $25,000. McMahon then said he had a special treat or “giant bear hug” for the crowd, and while he admitted it might seem blasphemous, he quietly kicked into marathon Something Corporate hit “Konstantine.” The crowd roared its approval, their initial gripes now forgotten. McMahons promised the band absolutely would not play the song the next night.

ImageAt the conclusion of the nine and half minute epic, the band would then play an epic of their own, the eight minute “MFEO/You Can Breathe Now”. This snapped the crowd out of their Konstantine trance, and the momentum carried into the final song of the night, “La La Lie”.

As the band made their way off stage, there wasn’t the sense of finality that you would expect from this type of show. Of course, this was due to the fact that the band would have one more at bat the next night, but it can also be attributed to the fact that everyone knows McMahon’s musical career is far from over. This hadn’t stopped many in attendance from going very far out of their way to be in attendance, as McMahon noted that he had talked to more fans from the East Coast than from the West Coast.

This is evidence of the type of connection Jack’s Mannequin had built with their fans in just seven years. While it’s a shame that that legacy will disappear along with the name, this series of benefit shows seemed like the perfect way to celebrate that legacy and close this chapter of McMahon’s career.

If you’re interested in donating to the Dear Jack Foundation and increasing that $50,000 total, visit http://www.dearjackfoundation.com/donate/

Jack's Mannequin Setlist El Rey Theatre, Hollywood, CA, USA 2012

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Going Out in Style: Thursday’s Farewell Tour Hits New Haven

December 29, 2011 2 comments

Thursday Farewell Tour
Toad’s Place, New Haven CT
December 28th 2011 

With the release of 2001’s Full Collapse, Thursday changed the course of alternative music. While the scene they helped create may not be remembered in the most favorable light, the band has consistently challenged musical conventions over the past 11 years, and done so with as much sincerity and integrity as any band could.

That is why it is a shame they have never equaled the success of Full Collapse. With each album, the band’s record sales and popularity fell, despite the fact they continued to earn glowing reviews for both their new releases and live shows. In April of 2011 they debuted their fifth proper full length, No Devolucion. It was a radical, “art rock” departure from their earlier work that quickly became one of the year’s best reviewed albums, even if not one of its best selling.

Short openings slots on tours with My Chemical Romance and Taking Back Sunday in front of largely uninterested crowds followed before the band then announced a proper headlining tour. In late November, they proclaimed the tour would be their last, save for a brief run of Australian dates in 2012. The band cited personal issues for calling it quits, but it can be assumed the difficulties of making a living as a band for so many years had taken its toll.

Their final headlining tour would come to a close with a string of East Coast dates during the holidays, with New Haven, CT being the third to last stop. The band had a history of playing at Toad’s, a venerable rock club close to the campus of Yale University. Their final show there would prove to be a memorable one, as both the band and their fans poured all of their energy into one last performance.

The night began with opening sets from Aficionado and Connecticut’s own Make Do and Mend. I was able to catch a number of songs from the latter, and wasn’t terribly impressed until their closing number, “Night’s the Only Time of Day,” which showed quite a bit of potential.

New Brunswick, NJ trio Screaming Females followed, showcasing their bass-heavy brand of garage rock. In addition to playing a very impressive lead guitar, frontwoman Marissa Paternoster is a vocal powerhouse, and her talents help the act stand out from many of their peers. While the band doesn’t have fantastic stage presence, they sounded great, and their set seemed well received by the large crowd that had already gathered.

The main support act was Philadelphia’s MewithoutYou. The band has earned somewhat of a cult following after touring extensively with the likes of Thursday and Brand New in the past, but has never earned the same type of breakout success as those two bands have. They played a nearly 45 minute set that had many in the crowd moving and singing along. They tended to blend at least a few of their songs together, and took only short breaks between others. While I’m not terribly familiar with their work, I would say they sounded much better than they had the one other time I had seen them.

After a nearly 40 minute wait (which is really pushing it at a show with five bands), Thursday took the stage to the tune of No Develucion’s “Open Quotes.” The crowd immediately surged towards the stage as fists flew through the air. While not one of the band’s better known songs, the intensity the band and the crowd displayed during this number would set the tone for the rest of the night.

Next up was “For the Workforce, Downing”, which is one of the band’s best known songs. The intensity was turned up a few more notches as frontman Geoff Rickly climbed on top of a monitor at the front of the stage, grabbed onto a support beam and leaned as far as he could into the crowd. With no barrier separating the stage from the fans, literally dozens of   people made their way on stage during this song alone, forcing the band to take a short break afterward to rearrange all the gear and peddles that had been trampled during the melee.

While Thursday had played 16 songs sets at previous shows, Rickly announced they would be playing longer on this night due to special requests from their road crew, the first of which was “I Am the Killer” from Full Collapse. The band would do a very good job showcasing songs that spanned their career while still featuring six songs from their most recent effort. This was important because this tour would prove to be the only chance they had to play anything from No Develucion as a headlining act.

Throughout the set, the crowd somehow maintained their level of intensity. At times it seemed the only ones getting more of a workout than the fans were the bouncers responsible for corralling crowd surfers as they reached the stage. Even during the set’s more mellow moments, the crowd continued to rage. At one point, Rickly said something along the lines of “We need to play a fast song now because you guys are killing each other during these slow songs.” The band would then launch into “At This Velocity” from 2003’s War All the Time, which was one of the set’s best performances.

For someone who has a reputation for between-song story telling, Rickly’s between song banter was at least somewhat constrained, although he did thank the fans on numerous occasions for sticking with them throughout the years and for their enthusiasm on this night. This enthusiasm would peak during “Cross Out the Eyes,” the song that had helped put the band on the map ten years earlier.

The only full length that Rickly and Co. seemed to ignore was 2008’s “Common Existence”, that is until the schizophrenic  “Resuscitation of a Dead Man” was featured as the last song of the set. After a very short break, the New Brunswick crew made their way back on stage and promised a three song encore, which began with the slowed down “Stay True.” The song was dedicated to the night’s first two opening acts, who Rickly credited with reminding him of “why he got into punk rock in the first place.”

After a nod to the holiday season, the band played the opening notes to

“Jet Black New Year” and the crowd swung back into action. The marathon (once again, considering there were five bands)  20 song set would then conclude with fast-paced closer “Turnpike Divides.”
It was now 12:15, and the sun had officially set on Thursday’s final New Haven show. Their powerful performance reminded everyone in attendance why they had grown to love the band in the first place, and why it would be tough to see them go.   While they may have ended up a casualty of a flawed record industry and shifting tastes, those in attendance are likely to remember Thursday as the band that poured their souls into every album and every live show, especially their last one.

Thursday Setlist Toad's Place, New Haven, CT, USA 2011

Bruce Springsteen Readies the Wrecking Ball at Giants Stadium

October 18, 2009 Leave a comment

bruce on stageBruce Springsteen and the E Street Band
Giants Stadium
October 3rd 2009

Bruce Springsteeen is the last of a dying breed. For well over 30 years, he has held the distinction of being Jersey’s favorite son, and his popularity may well be at an all time high. Such longevity is unheard of in today’s music world. Springsteen has managed to outlive Giants Stadium, the venue that helped signal his arrival as a certified rock star when he first performed there in 1985. The Boss was tapped to close out the (somewhat) historic venue with five farewell shows before it will be reduced to rubble at the conclusion of this year’s football season.

Springsteen and the E Street Band  marked the occasion by playing one of their most successful albums in its entirety each night. On October 3rd, the choice was “Born in the USA,” the 1984 breakout that has sold over 15 million copies in the US. In addition to the album’s twelve tracks, Springsteen would add a mix of old and new that had the 50,000 in attendance in a state of complete ecstasy.

I’ll start by saying I had never seen Bruce Springsteen live before, so I was more than excited to finally get the chance to see the man many consider one of today’s best performers. The most difficult part of the show was simply getting there. The trek from Southern Connecticut somehow required four different train rides, the final one a short trip from Hoboken to the Meadowlands that resembled a college campus on homecoming weekend, with frat boys and 50 year-olds alike readying for the party.

We were lucky enough to be on the field for the show, which was divided into two different pit sections. After arriving only a half an hour before the doors opened, we found a spot in the first pit that put us relatively close to the stage. While the tickets listed the show time as 7:30, the stadium was nearly empty as that time rolled around. Apparently the Jersey faithful knew something we didn’t, for the E Street Band wouldn’t take the stage until an hour later.

Once they did, Springsteen began the marathon set with a song titled “Wrecking Ball” written just for the occasion. It wasn’t Bruce’s best work, but the fans appreciated the effort and sang along with the words displayed on the huge video screens framing the stage. The band then broke into a raucous version of “Out in the Street.”  Working on a Dream epic “Outlaw Pete” followed, complete with a desert montage presented on the  screens. The song is one of Springsteen’s most unique, but at eight minutes, it seems a little bit much for a live setting like this.

One of the highlights of the show was the next song, “Hungry Heart,” which featured the 60 year-old Springsteen leaving the stage, running about thirty yards down field, and then crowd surfing his way back to the front. The show as a whole did not rely on overblown theatrics like most  stadium shows. Instead, Springsteen provided the type of energy that is rarely seen in today’s performers, racing to all ends of the stage and firing up the crowd between songs with the enthusiasm of a southern preacher.

After an already frantic start to the show, Springsteen and the E Street Band, which at times swelled to eleven members, segued into the nights bruce bannermain attraction, Born in the USA. The crowd sang at the top of their lungs to the title track, and then didn’t miss a beat during lesser known numbers such as “Darlington County” and “Downbound Train.” It was apparent the crowd of 50,000 was of the die hard variety.

One of the night’s most poignant moments was “I’m on Fire,” where Springsteen sat in a chair at the end of the stage to perform the song. On the video screen, three teenage girls in the front row  sang along to every word. When Springsteen reached out and clasped hands with each of them, the look on their faces was priceless.

The next track “No Surrender” followed and was met by a huge reaction from the crowd and was another one of the night’s high points. During “Dancing in the Dark,” Springsteen brought a Syracuse orange-clad thirteen year old on stage for a “birthday dance.” While he may not be Fred Astaire, even at 60 the Boss still has the moves.

After closing out the Born in the USA portion of the set, Springsteen would assemble the members of the band that had helped make the record at the front of the stage for a great photo opportunity. It was a terrible idea to not bring my camera.

Springteen and the E Street Band would continue to thrill fans with selections both old and new. “The Promise Land” from 1978’s Darkness on the Edge of Town was followed by “Last to Die” and “Long Walk Home” from 2007’s “Magic.” The songs, and the crowd’s reaction to them is a testament to the band’s longevity and amazing staying power. Could you imagine the Rolling Stones playing two news songs that the those in the crowd not only were familiar with, but sang along to as if it were the band’s biggest hit? I can’t.

Springsteen and Co. would finish their set with an epic rendition of their signature track “Born to Run.” Without leaving the stage, the band took their bows and then began the “encore” portion of the set by taking requests from the crowd. This involved Springsteen grabbing elaborately crafted signs from those at the front, and then tallying the results. The first request was a cover of Tom Wait’s  “Jersey Girl.” This was followed by a long, drawn out version of “Kitty’s Back.” Like “Outlaw Pete,” there were many in the crowd (including myself) who were quite ready to move on by the end of the song.

“Detroit Medley” would then follow, featuring a collection of Springsteen’s favorite 60’s Motor City classics. The collection is an appropriate tribute to the struggling city. After 2001 “American Land,” (which could easily fit on most Dropkick Murphy’s records), “Waitin’ on a Sunny Day” featured a guest appearance by a pint-sized member of the crowd who happened to know every word.

The two hour and fifty minute set would come to a close with “Thunder Road” from 1975’s Born to Run. After a long ovation, the crowd would reluctantly make their way for the exits. I was thoroughly exhausted. It’s almost unfathomable to think that Springsteen puts on such a spectacle every single night, and yet he has been doing it for decades. His energy and passion is unsurpassed, a main reason why he has been able to remain relevant for so long. Throughout Springsteen’s 30+ years career, artists, trends, and even stadiums have come and gone, but the E Street Band has remained a constant. It doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon.