Going to a Manchester Orchestra show is quite the unique experience. They truly attract fans of all ages, demographics and genre persuasions. The emo kids are there. The hard rock kids are there. The contemplative Bob Dylan fans are there. They’ve managed to take their music and not so much make it “commercial” or “mainstream”, but rather make it easily accessible. The result is almost always a crowd who are really into this band. I consider myself a pretty big fan of the Atlanta group, but you’ll always find fans at one of their shows who are a bigger fan than you are – and be prepared to watch their minds explode when they play one of their favourite songs.
At their show in Sydney over the weekend – in support of their latest, fifth LP A Black Mile To The Surface, and their first visit since their 2014 tour of Cope (and Hope) – there were plenty of these moments. Particularly when “I Can Barely Breathe” off of their debut LP I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child came in – a song loved amongst fans, and the epitome of their appeal to many of their fans; a rollicking chorus “when I fly solo I fly so high” gaining an impassioned singalong from many.
Having seen the band a number of times over the years, I’ve never quite seen them skew their set so heavy. Sure, there were a couple of songs along the way like “The Alien” and “The Sunshine” (as well as the two song encore) to give the five piece a breather, but for the most part, the group swayed towards the more epic moments in their catalogue – “I’ve Got Friends”, “Shake It Out”, “Simple Math” and indeed the aforementioned being particularly strong moments, pushed even heavier tonight than their studio versions. They also elongated the songs, experimenting more than I’ve seen in previous visits, with brief but notable jams along the way, as Andy Hull’s impeccable vocals led the way.
It’s hard to fault a band like Manchester Orchestra. They play to their fans, they play well, and they always mix up their setlists so as not to disappoint. Tonight they skewed heavier than I’d seen them in the past – but I’m sure this isn’t a new trend. It did feel like the experimentation with some tracks was, however, and it was a very welcome one. The setlist leaned primarily on their latest LP (unsurprisingly), with the new tracks hitting brilliantly – with the first and last tracks of the album serving as our opener and closer of the night. A few gems from Cope and and Simple Math were thrown in along the way, though most of the earlier material came off Mean Everything to Nothing – still their finest release (though some fans may disagree).
A somber two track encore – the heart-wrenching “I Can Feel a Hot One” and new LP closer “The Silence” – felt an appropriate come down from the onslaught that preceded it, and also left fans wanting more, a satisfaction few groups this far into their career can achieve. But Manchester Orchestra are no ordinary band. And no doubt fans (this one included) are already counting down the days until their next tour.
Shake It Out
Pale Black Eye
I’ve Got Friends
I Can Barely Breathe
I Can Feel a Hot One
The reviewer attended the 3rd February 2018 show at the Metro Theatre in Sydney. For more on the band, head to their official website.