Tuesday, 8 April 2014

910 MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA, Gang Of Youths, Bristol Fleece, Monday 7 April 2014

Another occasion, another Manchester Orchestra gig! Last time out for this band of riff-heavy Alabama tunesmiths coincided with our 6th Wedding Anniversary; this time it was Rach’s birthday outing! This was a short small-venue tour to promote brand new album “Cope”, possibly their best and most consistently tuneful effort yet, so I was onto this before it could sell out, which it did – quickly!
The kids were on a sleepover at grandmas, so we had a leisurely departure to Bristol, driving into the setting sun on the M4 and parking up in time to join the queue to get in (!) following an overrunning soundcheck. We therefore had a lengthy wait for openers Gang Of Youths; a schizophrenic lot this both visually and sonically, not youthful but heavy on hair, beards and heft, their sound ranged from chugging Southern rawk, “Joshua Tree”-era U2 parched acoustic landscapes and (more often) Arcade Fire-esque textural rhythm and building crescendos, which suffered from a lack of evident tunes and overall cohesion. The kinetic, Jim Morrison lookalike vocalist was frequently understated and lost in the mix, and overall, though I really liked certain bits of certain of their often overlong songs, nothing stuck. Frustrating, really…
Took a loo break as the place filled to heaving point; with the loos now situated under the dressing rooms, I could clearly hear Manchester Orchestra vocalist Andy Hull going through his vocal scales in preparation for the performance. Professionalism, I like that. After another fiddly final set-up, the band emerged from the darkness at 9.40, powering immediately into the jagged riffery and primal screaming rush of “Shake It Out”, before following it up with their best number of the night, a brilliant “Pensacola”, the libidinous rhythm and stream of consciousness lyrics giving way to a huge terrace chant hook and massive, soaring chorus. “That was superb; have they gone too soon?” I asked Rach. I think our opinions differed on that…
At their best, Manchester Orchestra are a thunderously and thrillingly noisy riff-heavy monster, whilst still evoking the tuneful fuzzy psych-rock of the likes of Grandaddy, and the gregarious Hull is a proper singer with a high-end range which belies his bulk. However the mid-part of this set for me was slightly heavy going, with little variation in this mainly back catalogue material, the bludgeoning riffs following each other in all-too quick succession. However the devotional audience lapped it up, singing along raucously to each towering chorus, softly to the infrequent quieter breaks. Hull and the band were also enjoying themselves too, Hull particularly in fine, entertaining form; he quipped, “we booked up a load of small venues as we weren’t sure if anyone still gave a shit about our band,” then in response to a female fan shouting, “we love you!” he said, “thanks mum!” then, “if you hear a drunk [calling out] that’s my dad!”
The roaring singalong of “I’ve Got Friends” powered onto the comparatively almost delicate opening to “Colly Strings” before Hull celebrated reaching “no. 67!” with the title track of the new album, “Cope”. The set finished with a perfectly delivered a capella “The Party’s Over”, before the band went straight into the encore (“we’re only standing in that corner, what’s the point?”), Hull stating “I’m having fun – sometimes playing this depressing music can take it out of you!”, before kicking into the tumbling drums of “Top Notch”. The subsequent driving staccato-riff rhythm and cascading verse-line of the almost Nada Surf-like “Every Stone” was great, another highlight, before a final “Simple Math” segueing into the final half of “The Only One” (again not played straight! Darn!), rounded off an overall fine, fan-pleasing set which for me could’ve been better with more new numbers, with only 3 or 4 played off the new album tonight.
The evening ended on a couple of jarring notes, however; firstly their ignorant asshole of a roadie shaped up to get the drummers set-list for me following my polite request, then scrunched it up and hurled it into the far side of the crowd. Total self-important supercilious dick. Then, a lengthy and convoluted diversion back into the city (after we’d already left it!) took over 20 minutes to avoid a half-mile closure on the M32, getting us home at a bleary-eyed 12.30. Bah! Still, we’ll be back again for more Manchester Orchestra noise; next big occasion maybe?

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