Jon McLaughlin at Schubas, 09.29.2013
I've been a Jon McLaughlin fan ever since the first time I saw him play back in 2007 - my freshman year in college! He played at the small bar/concert venue on campus, and needless to say, I've been hooked ever since. Jon hails from small town Anderson, in our lovely neighbor to the East, good ol' Indiana. Not a whole lot of backstory needed to know about Jon in order to appreciate his insanely good piano skills - he met his wife in college, started writing and singing and locally released a few EPs. The rest, as they say, is history. He's got a solid fan following now. Haven't heard of him, you say? Well, do you know the song "So Close" from the Disney movie Enchanted? Yup, that's him! He's even got a cameo in the movie (looks so good in that tux..) and performed the song at the Oscars. Jon toured with Kelly Clarkson back in 2007, and with OAR before that; I also just learned that he played at Lollapalooza in 2006. His song "Human" is featured on an episode of Scrubs. Beyonce stole writing credit from him for the song "Smash Into You" (sorry but re-titling doesn't count as having written it). He also comes up on Pandora often if you're listening to say, Matt Wertz, Ben Folds, Matt Nathanson...Basically I'm telling you that he's been around, you just haven't been listening close enough.
I'd say Jon McLaughlin is one of the best kept secrets out there. I've seen him play all over - CT, IN, few times in Chicago - and his fans are usually well-versed in his songs. He tours around to small venues (think Schubas and Lincoln Hall size), but he does really well with that size crowd. Plus, it makes it easier to get up close and watch those magic fingers. He can play the piano better than anyone I've ever seen - definitely right up there with Billy Joel and Ben Folds, in my opinion. His voice is the perfect complement for his ballads and he can hit a solid range of notes. And he's just so pretty..
Side note about the music industry :: Jon posted on his website a while back that he was leaving Island Def Jam Records, the label under which he released Indiana and sophomore album, OK Now. I'm sure there were many personal factors going into that decision, but if you compare OK Now to any other album, you'll hear that there's a distinct difference in its overall vibe. His explanation was basically that label was trying to turn him and his songs into something he's not. Sure, he may be a pop music artist, but his songs aren't typically over-synthed and about such random, superficial topics. He said only about half of that album was him, the rest was just songs. So kudos to him for leaving a major label to do it on his own. He later independently released Forever If Ever (later re-released as Promising Promises under the Razor & Tie label), and hasn't looked back since.
So anyway, Jon played at Schubas and I was pumped because he's just released his latest album (also self-produced and funded by fan-supported PledgeMusic.com which is interesting) called Holding My Breath. When I say fan-supported, I mean he got the funding to release and distribute the album from fans (like me!) who donated or chose to buy merch and personal performances and Google Hangout sessions, etc. Once he reached his financial goal, he was home-free to release the record. It's one way to see how many truely supportive fans you have, right? Anyway, I was looking forward to hearing his new songs live! He started off the set list with slower "Indiana", but then played my favorite, "Industry", and then started into the new material - "Above the Radio", "Hallelujah", "Anybody Else", and "Doesn't Mean Goodbye". He brought band-mate Dylan Conrad along (not the full band though), who came on-stage to supply an electric guitar accompaniment for a few songs.
I'll say this, the man knows how to work a room. One of the great things about Schubas is that you are really close to the performer(s) pretty much from any spot because it's a smaller space - so you sort of have to be able to engage the crowd if you play there. Jon fittingly told a few anecdotes about his last few times in Chicago and the weather, about writing break-up songs while he was dating his now-wife back in college (ha), and how he struggled to write a song for his new baby daughter, Luca! He eventually did write her a song, called "Imaginary Tea", which is really sweet and showcases his lovely voice and yes, that he also plays the harmonica! Speaking of, he did play "Summer is Over" (the studio version features old tour-mate Sara Barielles, flashback to that show freshman year), and also a jazzy "That's Why I'm Talking To You" that got everyone singing along. Of course, his "encore" (Schubas' stage doesn't really have room for a proper exit and re-entrance) included "Promising Promises" and a pretty acoustic guitar crowd-sing-along version of "Beautiful Disaster".
So despite the fact that I've seen this incredible artist five times before, I have to say that it was worth every penny. I'm not kidding when I say he has mad piano skills and the vocals to back it up - you won't be disappointed! Plus, not only is he a crazy talented singer/songwriter (did I mention he wrote/arranged the accompaniments when he played with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra?), but also he's proved that he has enough respect and passion for his craft to be able to walk away when things didn't feel right. And that's really what it's all about.
PS. Because I've seen him so many times, I wasn't overly concerned with getting the best view. But check out my "Past Shows" photo gallery to see some really close photos from previous shows! :-)