Rachel and I, happily, have many bands where our tastes overlap, and about whom we’re equally keen to catch “live” whenever possible (Nada Surf, The Sheila Divine and The New Pornographers leap to mind here). Similarly, there are also “David bands” and “Rachel bands”, where we acknowledge one of us is just that bit more keen than the other. Noted “Rachel bands” include the likes of Idlewild, Biffy Clyro, James, Ash… and, oddly, this lot, Manchester Orchestra, Alabama’s finest purveyors of riff-overloaded, alt-Americana tinged anthems for hairy chainsaw-wielding Appalachian backwoodsmen. I get why I like them, less sure about why my dear lady wife is such an avid fan. But hey, if it means that when they announce a new tour cycle promoting a new album (as they did earlier this year, including a Bristol date on their tour cycle in support of new album “A Black Mile To The Surface”), Rach is all over it like a rash, booking tix for us on the pre-sale, then hey, I’m game! It didn’t hurt either, that said new album (widely lauded as their finest yet) is an eminently listenable affair, a juxtaposition of the bleak and anthemic elements of their work, often recalling equally hairy Scottish mob Frightened Rabbit in the process. A bit weird about most tracks being titled “The [something or other]”, but there you go…
After making robust plans for our departure, we found out at the last-minute that this was an early one. However parental responsibility trumped rock’n’roll tonight, so we left directly after watching Logan’s final race in his swim club championships! Still, we parked up in the Rupert Street car park for 7.30, too late to catch the curiously named support Slothrust, but in ample time to brave the crowded bar for Rach’s vino collapso, and find a splendid viewing spot near the front, on the (slightly) raised walkway stage right. Sure enough, the lights dimmed and bearded behemoth vocalist Andy Hull led Manchester Orchestra on prompt at 8, his unorthodox high choirboy/ operatic lilt embellishing the elegiac opening to “The Maze”, before the song layered and built to a thudding, ball-crushing denouement under an avalanche of riffery. “The Gold”, next up, was a sinister lupine howl of a song with a pounding backbeat, and “The Moth” was all juddering heavy riffery again, the aural equivalent to being pulverised to a fine powder. Cripes!
Then, oldie “Shake It Out” actually brought some tuneage amidst all the sonic assault, and suddenly the scales fell from my eyes and I realised why Rach likes this lot so much – “Shake It Out”, all seething power, screaming hookline and undulating, tempo changing structure, could easily have walked off Biffy Clyro’s “Puzzle” album. Colour me stupid, but hey, got it now! Similar oldie “I’ve Got Friends” provided a respite from the sonic attack, almost pretty in comparison, with a deft keyboard hook accompaniment, and “The Alien”, one of 3 mid-set numbers which segued into each other (the 70’s soft rock feel of “The Sunshine” and the predictably heavier “The Grocery” being the other 2) was underpinned by a creepy bassline.
“Simple Math” thereafter returned to the usual Manchester Orchestra modus operandi – slow, eerie intro into mid-paced number, big ball-crushing crescendo – and I confess that by set closer “The River”, which felt like an ordeal in pounding repetitive noise, I would have liked a lot more light and shade respite during the set. I know that’s not normally like me to complain about the noise, but it all seemed a little… incoherent at times, just pounding riff after pounding riff for the sake of it. However, “Shake It Out” notwithstanding, the 2 encores were probably my favourite numbers of the night; “I Can Feel A Hot One” retaining its’ touching, tender mood throughout, and closer “The Silence” (ironically named, given the set thus far!) was also slow, quiet and almost 60’s film score-esque, at which point the taciturn Hull (not a word to the audience throughout!) gave a wave and led the troops offstage.
A remarkably easy list later, we were then stuck in an utterly stupid semi-crush to get out, as the crowd funnelled out to the single staircase exit at the back, then onto the street – where the pre-gig barriers were still up, cutting egress down to single file. Utterly stupid, and dangerously thoughtless, particularly for such a new venue. Note to self – don’t be in a rush to leave next time! So overall, a variable performance by Manchester Orchestra for me – splendid at times, hard work at others. They’re a “Rachel band”, though, and she loved it, so there!