It’s my favorite time of year. The leaves have fallen from the trees and the cold, crisp air of winter is taking over. Though darkness comes quickly, the streets of Portland are brighter than ever with Christmas lights decorating every building. For many, December is a 25-day countdown. But for Portland’s music savvy, it’s a 14-night celebration.
It’s 94/7’s annual December to Remember concert series. This year, the radio station filled the Crystal Ballroom with a 14-band lineup spanning three weeks. Every night brought another sold-out crowd and another unforgettable performance. On December 1, AWOLNATION graced the Crystal stage. For night two, Andrew McMahon came to serenade us all.
One thing I love about this series is the attention given to the local bands of Portland. Our city is devoted to local music, as is this publication. Every night brings a new local act to open the show. For this particular show, Astoria’s Holiday Friends filled that space.
Holiday Friends have experience with December to Remember. This year marked the band’s fourth time appearing as an opener, and they’re never a disappointment. The last time I saw these guys play was at McMenamins' Kennedy School gym. It was much more intimate than this time around, but with the #Dec2Rem experience comes a Crystal Ballroom stage. Holiday Friends played the ballroom like pros, warming up the crowd with a set of indie pop rock that kept us on our toes, especially when they dropped new tunes into the set. From the sounds of it, I’d say we’re all in for a treat when that new music is released.
As Holiday Friends finished off their set, the ballroom was reaching capacity for the night’s headlining act. The stage setup was simple. A piano sat center stage and a giant banner draping the wall behind read, “Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness.” The production seemed simple, but McMahon had a few surprises up his sleeve.
McMahon came on with a track off his debut solo album. There were two things that hit me about the song. First, McMahon’s vocals were unbelievable. It was the passion he put into his music and the crisp range of his voice, all backed by his piano and the rest of his band. Second, that passion came out in his movements. McMahon wasn’t held down by his piano—he strode the stage, danced to the music, jumped on top of the piano to look at the crowd below. The music, the movement, the passion—it all kept the night alive.
McMahon weaved his way through his set, consisting of equal parts solo work and songs from his days with Something Corporate and Jack’s Mannequin. Moving around the stage, he kept the audience engaged. But as the set began to close, there was nowhere to go but up.
A few audience members began to shuffle up to the front. They all wore special shirts that labeled them members of the “Wilderness Crew.” The first major production spectacle of the night was underway. Giant balloons attached to a detonator were handed to the undercover crew members. As McMahon began to perform his song “Cecilia and the Satellite,” the balloons lit up the ballroom.
The crowd sang along with all their hearts to what’s considered McMahon’s best-known song. As the last chorus hit, the Wilderness Crew pressed the buttons on the detonator. The balloons exploded, releasing confetti throughout the ballroom.
As McMahon sang us out into the night, the beauty of the season was in full bloom. While winter may be Christmas music and snow for most, here in Portland, indie pop and rock music and confetti call forth the month of December.