August 27, 2010
The Grove of Anaheim
After stepping onto the stage at the Grove on Friday night, it was clear Something Corporate was happy to be home. Accompanied by the sounds of Peaches and Herb's “Reunited,” the band took up their instruments and charged into the angsty anthem “21 & Invincible” off of 2003s North.
With singer Andrew McMahon pounding furiously at the Baldwin piano in front of him and backed by a competent group of pop-punk musicians, he sounded the chorus with a tortured pathos-laden facial expression. Calling out the “whoah ohs,” McMahon's mouth contorted as the crowd's fists pumped and voices raised high. It was a power-house start which lost steam as the evening progressed. Slowly at first, then precipitously.
Sure, on songs like “Hurricane,” off 2002's Leaving Through the Window, McMahon's ivory-tickling was both crisp and sweet as the notes cascaded off the stage and above the crowd. But the state-of-the art sound system which allowed the band's unusual combination of instruments to shine wasn't enough to save the set. And while the band has issues, which are about to be enumerated, they weren't the result of the band's energy or stage presence.
Throughout the set, McMahon strutted around with white boy urban swagger, pumping his fist and at times climbing atop his piano while guitarists Josh Partington and Bobby “Raw” Anderson air-dueled with their axes. In between songs, McMahon graciously thanked the crowd for their support, and gushed at how happy they all were to be in Orange County where they first formed in 1998. The effusive thanks were made poignant by the fact that the band has been on hiatus since 2004, during which time McMahon successfully battled leukemia. There was no denying the feeling of triumph hanging in the air.
But unfortunately, the air was thin. Throughout the evening, the tame sound of the material the band has created over the years took on the feel of a Harvest Crusade or some such evangelical event where out-of-touch organizers use “edgy” punk bands to relate to young unsaved Christians. McMahon may have been singing about kissing a drunk girl, but lyrics about kissing Jesus' sandals could have easily been substituted. And as the audience waved its hands and swayed like kelp, they looked less like fans and more like devotees.
With his sing-songy vocals backed by the band's standard four-chord pop punk, one tune began to blend with the next into a facet-less sonic soup. Leaning heavily on the predictable strategy used by many OC punk bands, McMahon proclaimed defiance in the face of adversity while simultaneously sounding whiny and melodramatic. This wasn't helped during the evening's encore when the band played “I Woke up in a Car,” an older song recently remixed by Owl City's Adam Young. Note to up and coming bands: If you ever want to be taken seriously, a blatant poseur like Adam Young is not someone you want to be associated with.
This is a shame because Something Corporate's first hit, “If You C Jordan,” the anthemic maniacal emasculation of the high school jockocracy was so quirky. Listening to the jam, which sounds like a cross between Billy Joel and the Descendants, it's easy to imagine Something Corporate taking their whole catalogue in a clever, rocking and unexpected direction à la Ben Folds. It's what a music fan should reasonably expect of a punk band fronted by a talented piano player. But instead of skewing Folds during the course of their career, they chose the Sum 41 route. McMahon has said in recent interviews that this reunion tour is more about satisfying his own nostalgia for the group and that other bands such as his hiatus project, Jack's Mannequin, are looming on the horizon. Here's hoping he uses the time wisely and creates the caliber of music he's shown the world he's capable of.
The Crowd: Intensely loyal and adoring of the band. The enthusiasm was palpable. Fairly young. Many were in their early 20s judging by the cups of booze several were sipping from.
Overheard: “Take off your clothes!” Yelled one young female fan. “Yeah. Get naked!” Yelled the young man standing next to her.
Personal Bias: I've heard enough Orange County pop-punk to keep my ears ringing for the remainder of my life.
21 & Invincible
She Paints Me Blue
Watch the Sky
Me and the Moon
I want to Save You
As You Sleep
If You C Jordan
Punk Rock Princess
I Woke up in a Car