I must admit, I hadn’t actually listened to Manchester Orchestra when the chance came up to review them; I put myself forward on a whim and I’m glad I did. Writing this a week later, I am now the proud owner of all of the Manchester Orchestra merchandise ever produced; I have also bought their entire back catalogue including the obscure early EPs and have sat in lectures doodling their album artwork in the back of my notepad.
So that might be a bit over the top, but it is nothing less than the gig deserved. When first looking into the band I was pretty dismissive of the idea of remaking their latest record Cope for the sake of making it a bit softer, but when I gave it a chance and stopped being so stubborn I was surprised. It actually makes for a very interesting comparison, highlighting how well written the songs are; if a song can be dressed up in two different styles and sound great in both, it has passed the test. Cope exudes the same kind of energy you would get attending a dirty warehouse rave in Manchester, whereas its stripped back alternative Hope is what I would imagine it’s like to lie on a beach in the Bahamas. It’s rare for a band to release material that is so different stylistically to what has come immediately before it. The reason it’s rare is because it’s an uncertain move: do it wrong and you risk alienating the audience you spent 10 years building up. When I asked guitarist/singer-songwriter Andy Hull why they went back and revised the album to make Hope, he answered that “it was part of the plan the whole time. It was a completion”.
The gig was full of the energy that Manchester Orchestra are becoming renowned for; there was even the occasional head-bang in the head-bob section around the perimeter of the audience. The support acts, Kevin Devine and Bad Books (who are also fronted by Kevin Devine) were both great and succeeded in easing the audience into what was to come. They reminded me a bit of the school band stage of years 9 & 10; the three acts that played contained a lot of the same faces and took me back to the days when everyone was in seventeen different bands at school with everybody else they knew and had one practise at the drummers mum’s house. It created an appealing atmosphere on stage as the overlap in band members and jokes on stage made the show seem that bit more comfortable.
Manchester Orchestra’s set was a varied display of what they have to offer: for most of their set they showcased their heavier side, with the occasional solo spot from Andy Hull for a quick breather. Their sound was as full as their beards, leaving me both in awe of their musical expertise and their ability to grow more facial hair than myself. If I had any criticism of the gig, it would be that there was a bit of a mismatch between the sound that was blasting out of the PA and the vibrancy on the stage; at times it became a bit static. This said, it was a stylistic choice and also gave you a chance to stare at the trippy lights.
Their single “Girl Harbour” is currently being played on the LSRadio playlist as we speak so there’s a very good chance you will come across them anyway, but until then, if you’re into catchy melodies, hit-you-in-the-face distorted guitars or even civilised string quartets then I’d definitely suggest that you give them a listen. With pretty much all styles of music falling into that framework, now you have no excuse.