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The X Holiday ALTercation: An exposition of acoustic pop music

November 29, 2018

BY TOM NETHERLAND | SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER

From test tubes marked melodically distinct come a quartet of pop music purveyors.

Swirls of pop music halo Bristol’s Paramount on Friday.

Presented by 99.3 The X, Holiday ALTercation spotlights New York’s AJR, California’s Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, Sweden’s Flora Cash and Washington’s Jukebox the Ghost. An exposition of acoustic music, the show highlights music from their roots up.

“I’ve come to love stripped down shows,” said Andrew McMahon, by phone from his home south of Los Angeles. “I haven’t done a lot of them, even though I am a piano player and songwriter.”

Plug McMahon’s personally revelatory and revealing lyrics into an unplugged show. Ever stood naked in front of a crowd? Imagine nakedness beyond that which clothes conceal.

“That’s exactly right,” McMahon, 36, said. “I’ve had a career now for 17, 18 years. I’ve found that as I step back to that naked stage, I’m enjoying it.”

Little room for slip-ups arise in the midst of an acoustic show. Notes hit or miss, lyrics executed or not accentuate all the more when sans vast and electrified accompaniment.

“Our acoustic show is very different from our electric show,” said Adam Met of the Met Brothers trio, AJR.

“An acoustic guitar gives us a chance to spin our songs in a different way. It gives the fans a chance to actually hear the lyrics of our songs. It’s very relaxed.”

Spin AJR’s latest album, the doo-wop woven pop epic, “The Click.” Written, produced, performed, recorded and released on their own, the record found an enormous audience.

To date, AJR’s song “Weak” has tallied a whopping 359 million spins on Spotify. An eye-popping 43 million views registered on You Tube. Its lyrics rise as if from the fog to resonate in either an electric or an acoustic setting.

“People can relate to it on a serious level, addiction,” Met said. “But it also fits in on the party level.”

Either way, music nourishes. For the fan, music can mean the difference of a lifetime. Likewise for the creator, music can touch in ways impossible on the physical level. It’s medicine the likes of which can heal the soul, mend the heart, enliven the spirit.

“That’s a perfect metaphor for what music is to me and to my fans,” McMahon said. “I started in music when I lost a close family member. That’s how I found music. That’s how I found the piano.”

Albums including his latest journey into the mind, body, and soul, “Upside Down Flowers,” resulted. Fans responded. Millions spin his songs on Spotify, buy his concert tickets, exist as addicts of his sumptuously affecting and infectious style.

“Music is a drug,” McMahon said. “It started from just something I did to something I just couldn’t stop doing. Before it was my career, music was something I had to do. It was like drinking water. I would come home and sit at the piano until someone told me to stop.”

AJR took root 13 years ago in New York City. Brothers Adam, Jack and Ryan Met learned vocal harmony from listening to their father’s Beach Boys records. With stripes of doo-wop and swaths of pop sensibilities applied, they took to busking in Central Park.

“That was definitely the most valuable thing we did as a band for our career now,” Adam Met said. “Understanding an audience and seeing what they wanted helped us grow. It’s so difficult to do.”

A lone tweet by Ryan Met altered the course of AJR’s career overnight. He tweeted a link to the video of their song, “I’m Ready,” to nearly 100 celebrities in 2013. Featuring a sample of cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants, the song eventually became the band’s first hit.

Audiences enlarged like a sponge in water.

“It’s insane,” Adam Met said. “A year and a half ago, we went from performing for 250 people to now playing for 5,000 people per night. We put out our album, ‘Click,’ and people sing along at the shows. It’s incredible.”

So it goes when communication connects on a higher plane then multiplies. For McMahon, it starts whenever his fingers touch the keys of his piano. Inward he goes. Into a world only he knows, he ventures in search of oft-elusive treasures of words and notes.

Then like a butterfly from a cocoon, McMahon’s beauty of creation flutters then flies to meet its audience.

“I wake up every day trying to figure out how to make music,” McMahon said. “The biggest thing is trying to make it feel like it doesn’t feel like a chore. You can then feel those lightning bolts that come to you.”