Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness // Chicago, IL // 12.08.23

The New Friends Tour
Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness w/ Michigander, Wildermiss
Riviera Theatre, Chicago, IL
December 8, 2023

Very few artists can transition through projects, through albums, through decades, and still have the lasting power to perform tour after tour. Andrew McMahon is one of those artists.

The New Friends Tour, headlined by Andrew’s current project, Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, in celebration of their new album Tilt at the Wind No More, hit the Riviera Theatre in Chicago this past Friday night, and it was definitely the place to be. With support from Colorado indie rockers Wilderness and Michigan’s own (if their moniker didn’t give it away…) Michigander, the New Friends Tour is a wonderful night out for alternative and indie music lovers of all ages – whether old friends of Andrew (or Wildermiss or Michigander) or new!

Wildermiss mid-performance.

Wildermiss vocalist Emma Cole is a powerhouse behind her mic and synth, with a stage presence that captivates the audience. Shrouded in silhouette lighting with beams of white and red, sigh vocals that croon and echo, she is mysterious and intense, and the crowd cannot take their eyes off her. The way she moves onstage is like she’s floating through the sound-waves of her synthesizer and guitarist Joshua Hester’s rhythms. This combined with drumming by Caleb Thoemke is entrancing – it is impossible to tear one’s eyes away from the stage while Wildermiss is performing on it.

Following this all-enveloping performance is Michigander – (formerly Michigan’s, now Tennessee’s) Jason Singer and his touring band – who are the epitome of chicken soup for the midwest emo-indie soul. Twinkling rhythms? Check. Buzzing riffs, and drum beats to get everyone in the room nodding their heads? Check. Catchy lyrics and tunes courtesy of Singer? Check! With tracks like “In My Head,” Michigander is catchy and groovy – a trait that carries over and gets the crowd going on an entirely different level when the opening chords to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” start a few songs later. Plenty of artists love covers – but not often do you find an artist that knows how to pick a cover that perfectly fits their audience and their skillset. Michigander found that with this nice addition to their set, and it was a blast to witness.

And then the highlight of the night, the reason everyone has come out – Andrew’s set. Those who have witnessed a set from McMahon before know that it takes a special soul to be able to get out on stage with, simultaneously, the energy of a punk rock vocalist and a classically trained pianist – and he is that soul. Before he takes the stage, a camp counselor or two (stage crew) set up glowing rods of light, funky-colored cutouts of trees, a tent or two, everything needed for an adventure McMahon’s Wilderness. And then as the lights go down, and the music starts, the crowd is searching for him.

McMahon mid-jump off of his grand piano is not a rare occurrence at one of his concerts.

Where is McMahon, if not onstage? The answer? He’s heading through the crowd, lit by a lantern, playing a glowing, violet music box, singing out “Nobody Tells You When You’re Young,” as he makes his way to the stage. The crowd, aglow with joy and amusement at this man right from the jump, is already riled up and ready to go when he begins playing “Fire Escape” on his grand piano.

No one is shocked when he climbs on top of said grand piano, nor when he jumps off it. Not just this once, but many a time throughout the night. Andrew is a performer. He has been since his Something Corporate days, two decades ago, and not much has changed since then.

McMahon’s touring band is also quite familiar for those who have been long-time fans, as his current lead guitarist is Bobby Anderson (of both of Andrew’s previous projects, Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin), his drummer is Jay McMillian (Jack’s Mannequin), and bassist is Mikey Wagner (Jack’s Mannequin). And therefore, it comes as no shock that the performers of Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness perform a wild variety of songs from all three projects.

Andrew puts on a twinkling rainbow cape for In The Wilderness’s “Stars,” makes fans lose their minds with a performance of a snippet of Something Corporate’s “Konstantine” into “Punk Rock Princess,” and leads an audience-wide singalong for Jack’s Mannequin’s “La La Lie,” (during which he floats over the crowd on a giant blow up llama, which he proclaims to be the “La La Llama”).

Other wonderful highlights of the night include a karaoke contest winner joining the band onstage for Something Corporate’s “I Woke Up in a Car,” the band’s fake thunderstorm during “Rainy Girl,” guest appearances from every member of both opening bands during the song “New Friends,” and a sea of cell phone lights around the room during “Stars.”

The most crucial element to any Andrew McMahon performance is the amount of crowd interaction taking place – and it is something so magical to witness. Those who are privileged enough to sing, dance, and laugh along to songs spanning the past twenty-odd years of McMahon’s music are fully aware of how lucky they are, faces lit up the entirety of the set, every single time. For this reason alone, Andrew McMahon will never be an artist to skip. For as long as he continues to perform, there will be a crowd that continues to show up, and that crowd will always be there with bells on. The New Friends Tour is just one example, among many, of this phenomenon, and it is 100% worth attending.

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