A review by Justine Dench

The atmosphere buzzed in the packed out Manchester Academy arena, full of indie-types ready to see the brilliant American alternative rock outfit that is Manchester Orchestra. The evening was introduced by blustery pop-rock group The Xcerts, a band that perfectly ignited the simmering anticipation into full blown excitement. The three-piece deliver heart-felt lyrics through passionately aggressive vocals, thundering drumming, ear-splitting riffs, and synth-like add-ins. Featured in the 7-song set were tracks from their up and coming album “Scatterbrain” (released 14th November), including the energetic “Slackerpop” which features an extremely catchy chorus. You should check these guys out if you are a fan of bands like Twin Atlantic, Sucioperro and Tellison.

However, this is not why the bustle made the trip out into the drizzle that Wednesday night. After a padded interval, faces were lit up when keyboardist and percussionist Chris Freeman emerged onto the stage and took his place surrounded by his multiple weapons of choice, sporting his signature round spectacles. Freeman was shortly followed by other band members; lead guitarist Robert McDowell, bassist Jonathon Corley, drummer Tim Very, and the voice and lyrics of Manchester Orchestra, Andy Hull.

The band started playing over the delighted uproar, opening the set with the first track off their new album, “Deer”. This is a beautifully simple track with sombre electric guitar, wistful backing vocals, and subtle percussion and keyboard; all elements that perfectly frame the distinctively delicate side to Hull’s voice. The crowd was abruptly thrown into quiet wonder, only piping up in response to the line “Dear everybody that has paid to see my band” and falling into a big cheer when the song closes. As if then to remind you how this band can also create a crashing atmosphere, the group revert back to an older track “Pride”, from their second album “Mean Everything To Nothing”, introducing Hull’s beloved scream.

The set covered some their earlier work and with classics such as “Now That You’re Home”, “Colly Strings”, and the smashing single “I’ve Got Friends” gracing the stage, long standing fans could not have been anything less than elated. The initial set finished with a beautiful interpretation’s of Willie Nelson’s cheerful 1967 track “The Party’s Over” and the gig ends much like it started, full of awe, with an engulfing ‘pin-drop’ atmosphere. With a clash of hands and expecting eyes the group came back and smashed out three encore tracks from their second album “Mean Everything To Nothing”, closing with “The River” a heart-felt song that takes the rough with smooth projecting all the components we know and love about this Atlanta-born band.

“Deer” wasn’t the only track played from the new album that evening. Other songs included the melancholic album-titled track “Simple Path”; full of rhythmic electric guitar strums, explosive choruses, and atmospheric strings, as well as the upbeat track “Pensacola” that features speedy lyrical verses and anthem-like breakdowns. This is the band’s third studio album, and ventures into the world of concept, said to be based on Hull’s questioning of all the elements that surround his life ranging from his wife to the Almighty himself. The album projects a slightly different feel compared to previous albums, particularly due to the use of strings (without the loss of their signature sound) and the move into the use of more sincere and meaningful lyrics, making the album over all more broadening experience. A must have for existing fans as well as those who enjoy the likes of Arcade Fire, Brand New and Hull’s side project Right Away, Great Captain!.

Set List:

Deer (Simple Path, 2011)

Pride (Mean Everything To Nothing, 2009)

Now That You’re Home (I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, 2006)

My Friend Marcus (Mean Everything To Nothing, 2009)

April Fool (Simple Path, 2011)

Pale Black Eye (Simple Path, 2011)

I Can Barely Breathe (I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, 2006)

Shake It Out (Mean Everything To Nothing, 2009)

100 Dollars (Mean Everything To Nothing, 2009)

Pensacola (Simple Path, 2011)

I’ve Got Friends (Mean Everything To Nothing, 2009)

Simple Math (Simple Path, 2011)

Colly Strings (I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, 2006)

Turn Out The Lights (Willie Nelson cover)

Encore:

The Only One (Mean Everything To Nothing, 2009)

Everything To Nothing (Mean Everything To Nothing, 2009)

The River (Mean Everything To Nothing, 2009)

Watch the music video for Manchester Orchestra’s Simple Math below:

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