Monday, 3 October 2011

828 MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA, The Xcerts, Bristol O2 Academy, Sunday 2 October 2011

A gig to celebrate Rachel’s and my Wedding Anniversary, this; we celebrated 6 years together the previous day and had intended to go see Dave Gorman at the Wyvern on this date. However when intriguing new US alt rock band Manchester Orchestra, who’d caught our attention with a deliciously noisy and savage blast of an album a couple of years ago in “Mean Everything To Nothing”, announced a tour promoting new “concept” album “Simple Math” which passed through Bristol on the same day, we quickly divested ourselves of the Gorman tix and arranged this one! Part of the attraction, I confess, was that this gig was originally scheduled for the Thekla, increasingly becoming a favourite venue of ours, but “overwhelming demand” saw it relocated to the much larger yet more anodyne O2 Academy. Bah!

Nevertheless, off we blasted into the thankfully quickly setting sun, on a scorching Indian Summer Sunday evening, hitting a puzzlingly deserted venue (“overwhelming demand”? Where?) before openers The Xcerts. A young Scottish three piece, they blasted through a set of reasonable ragged hormonal Emo angst, with some distorted vocals providing a relief from the vocalist’s occasionally trying screaming. They finished with their best 2 numbers, including a final one which, with a determined driving pace and swirling guitar overlay, reminded me a little of My Vitriol!

The place filled up as we took good viewing spots on the dancefloor, stage left as usual, and I could understand the venue change – I had to concede this would have been a tight squeeze on the “dirty boat”! Following a fiddly sound set-up, the lights eventually dropped and Manchester Orchestra took the smoky stage just after 9, led on by vocalist Andy Hull, a huge bearded and hulking great bear of a man, albeit the possessor of an eerily high pitched and plaintive voice recalling Grandaddy’s Jason Lytle. In fact, the band’s beards and utilitarian garb overall suggested a junior Grandaddy, and whilst there are traces of the Modesto maestro’s dusty yet quirky alt-Country psych fuzz in their music, for example stripped back and slow-burn opener “Deer”, this band know how to Rock, big time. The subsequent “Pride” brought the noise, and by the 3rd number, the excellent “April Fool”, they were powering through some strident and towering rock riffs and really working up a sweat. “I’ve Got Friends” reminded me of the Foo Fighters classic “My Hero”, but the set highlight was easily the subsequent “Shake It Out”, a thrilling, seething, visceral and dynamic rock noise, the end of which saw me remarking to Rachel, “NOW I see why Biffy Clyro wanted them as tour support!”

"6 years and we still don’t know how to talk to the crowd – welcome to awkward band camp, we’re Manchester Orchestra,” announced a nevertheless charming and gregarious Andy before album title track “Simple Math”. Then, their best number “The Only One” was unveiled, albeit in vocal and guitar form only, which rendered it bereft of it’s Neutral Milk Hotel-alike chugalong fuzz, and provided, for me at least, the only slightly disappointing note of the night. Another parched and plaintive paean in “The River” bookended the set proper, before encores included a funny strumalong number in which Andy declared his admiration of 50 Cent (!), and a superb “Pensacola”, another Grandaddy-esque US alt-psych romp, albeit with another huge guitar powered chorus chant. Overall, this was great, wonderfully noisy and powerful stuff from a highly promising band already delivering the goods, and a lengthy wait for a set-list afterwards paid dividends as well. A fine way to mark our anniversary!

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