Manchester Orchestra bring it to the Living Room

A Review of Manchester Orchestra at the Living Room on Thursday, February 1

, Staff

<p>Andy Hull is cold. You wouldn’t think so, considering he’s wearing a knit cap, hooded sweatshirt, and has a full beard that rivals that of Yukon Cornelius. However, frontman/guitarist Andy Hull and the rest of Manchester Orchestra (Jonathan Corley on bass, Jeremiah Edmond on drums, Chris Freeman on keyboards and backup vocals, and Robert McDowell on guitar) hail from Atlanta, a far cry from the frigidity displayed on a standard Thursday evening in Providence.<br />
<br />
&amp;quot;New England is beautiful,&amp;quot; proclaims Hull, after breaking down the foot-stomping dramatics of &amp;quot;Now That You’re Home&amp;quot;, one of the best tracks off the band’s 2006 debut full-length<em> I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child</em>. &amp;quot;It’s beautiful, but it’s really fucking cold.&amp;quot;<br />
<br />
You’d think Manchester Orchestra might have become accustomed to different climates given their chock-full touring schedule of the last year or so, most notably in support of Brand New and Kevin Devine as well as slots at Lollapalooza and SXSW. They managed to play 250 shows, appeared on Letterman, and saw <em>Like a Virgin</em> go gold &amp;ndash; not bad for a group of kids whose average age wouldn’t get them a beer at host venue the Living Room, the beloved shitbox that has hosted a who’s who of underground acts in the city of Providence.<br />
<br />
Kicking off their first show in P-dence with &amp;quot;Now That You’re Home&amp;quot;, the Orchestra set the early – and impressive – precedent of skintight sonics, on-point vocals from Hull, and enough zeal to garner &amp;quot;Most Energy&amp;quot; accolades if this were a <em>Rock Band</em> jam session. In the Living Room, a venue that boasts stronger drinks than acoustics, the coherence of the band was perfect on songs like the unapologetic commotion of &amp;quot;Alice and Interiors&amp;quot; and gently cascading harmonics of &amp;quot;Golden Ticket.&amp;quot; For as young as they are, the members of Manchester Orchestra definitely have the musical chops to back up their quick success and maintain a symbiotic relationship with the audience, no matter how sparse &amp;ndash; they’re not playing at the crowd, they’re playing for it, in hopes that even the most jaded, aloof hipster will loosen up his trendy scarf and feel the music.<br />
<br />
The boys from Atlanta also took the opportunity to showcase some tracks from their sophomore release, slated for early summer. Taking a page from the grunge saga of the 90s, one of their cuts sounded like the bastard child of Nirvana’s &amp;quot;Lithium&amp;quot;, juxtaposing heavy, gloom and doom guitars with Hull’s distinctive cherubic voice. Another sample from the new album, &amp;quot;Sweat it Out&amp;quot;, showed how good the band is at exploiting the dichotomy between quiet and loud, a la tourmates Brand New &amp;ndash; the song begins as an eerie, melancholy lullaby and explodes into a galloping climax, the music matched in intensity by Hull screaming into the microphone, veins surely popping out of his neck underneath that epic beard. It seems as though Manchester Orchestra holed up and listened to a ton of Pavement and Nirvana, took an inordinate amount of bong hits, grew out their neck beards and flowing locks and made this new record, and in no way is that depressing.<br />
<br />
Some might find Hull’s voice a little unorthodox in a straightforward rock outfit, maybe seeing him as more inclined to the singer-songwriter camp. He does channel some Damien Rice in tracks like &amp;quot;I Can Feel Your Pain&amp;quot;, opting for the almost-whisper, super emotive route, but even in heavier tracks like &amp;quot;I Can Barely Breathe&amp;quot; his vocals carry well and are oddly appropriate. Hull sings with the passion and intent that you look for in a frontman without being wildy overwrought and embarrassing to watch &amp;ndash; he knows he’s not Iggy Pop and is not, therefore, writhing around on the floor looking for glass to cut himself with. He knows his role, so to speak, and performs with enough feeling that at one point he had to cast off his hoodie and knit cap. Not so fucking cold now, are we?<br />
<br />
The Orchestra selected &amp;quot;Colly Strings&amp;quot; as its farewell address, stretching the hymnal interlude as far as it could go. As with another softer song, &amp;quot;Sleeper 1972&amp;quot;, the band tries to use the more temperate tracks as an opportunity to create an intimate moment or period of meditation. Unfortunately, the crowd was just not having it. While the band was trying to paint soft sonic landscapes, the girl standing behind me was bored enough to be yammering away about how her boyfriend was &amp;quot;like, a good guy at heart but just, like, kind of an idiot.&amp;quot;&amp;  Fascinating stuff, I’m sure. At some point I think a band shouldn’t take itself so seriously that all the members are facing the back of the stage, noodling on their respective instruments, foraging for latent scraps of pretension when the audience is thinking more about what happened on Lost than what’s happening at that moment. The band is young though, and has enough talent already that these shades of pretense are forgivable. If they stick to what they’re good at &amp;ndash; blending 90s grunge with indie rock, existentially sound lyrics and distinctive vocals &amp;ndash; the many music critics and fans that have caught major wood over this band will be vindicated, and the somewhat struggling music scene will be blessed with another solid effort.</p>

Leave a Reply