Andy Hull, the lead vocalist and creative force behind Manchester Orchestra, may be atypical of contemporary musicians and even more so for a rock & roll frontman. Hull breaks the from this stereotype by his seeming rejection of attention. Instead he places the music in the forefront in a natural, yet unusual combination of brooding,intellectualized lyrics and raw, powerful vocals. Hull’s lyrics and music are self-reflective, complex, and intense, while his relaxed on-stage demeanor makes it seem like you are watching your childhood friend follow his musical dreams.The result is an odd meld of a Jim Morrison-esque lyrical poetry with a Jerry Garcia ease.
Hull once remarked in an interview that he wanted the power to shock with sound. If that is his goal he should consider it accomplished. Those unfamiliar with Manchester Orchestra’s music would not have been able to anticipate the sonic tidal wave that the band was about to unleash as the band took the stage. As they casually walked on stage at the Electric Factory, Hull quietly asked the crowd, “Everybody okay?”. Barely waiting for a response, the band exploded into “April Fool”. The audience responded in kind, sending its own wave of energy right back to the band. Feeling this enthusiasm, Hull stepped away from the microphone and toward the crowd to sing. Without hesitation the crowd joined in, singing “I’ve got that rock and I’ve got that roll” so loudly they nearly overpowered the band. “April Fool” served as a perfect example of the dichotomy that Hull brings to Manchester Orchestra.
As talented as Hull obviously is, the members of Manchester Orchestra are also his musical equals. One cannot help but be impressed by the prowess of Chris Freeman, who primarily plays keyboards. However, when the music necessitates, Freeman spins around in his chair to help out with percussion by joining in on his mini kit. Not that drummer Tim Very needs any help. His performance was tight and, almost as importantly, loud enough that his drums could be physically felt even at the back of the venue. The intensity of the Orchestra is taken up a few notches by Jonathan Corley on bass and Robert McDowell on guitar. Both provide not only solid musicianship, but also the head banging that is a natural accompaniment.
While the show was not sold out, it must have come close. The Factory is mostly standing room, but there are 2 sets of bleachers at the back of the main floor. Although people were not standing shoulder to shoulder, the audience filled every available spot and the bleachers were filled the entire night with teenagers enjoying the show.
After coming out swinging with “April Fool”, the band played the slightly less heavy “100 Dollars” which kept the audience singing loudly. From there the band played “Pride”, which was much more melodic, but just as intense as the first two songs. In fact, “Pride” showcased Hull’s aptitude for writing intense, angry music that is, at the same time, not musically heavy. And this is the genius of Manchester Orchestra.
One would be mistaken to dismiss Manchester Orchestra as another whiney rock group begging for the listener’s attention to tell them how pissed off they are. Instead the band writes about experiences and situations that are common to the human condition. The listener is drawn in and shares the emotional journey rather than remaining separate. Hull seems to be aware of this, too. During “Deer”, he reworked part of the lyrics to thank the audience for going to the show. For this performance, Hull played “The Only One” with only his guitar accompanying his voice. At one point in the song, he broke into a cappella. There he was, on stage alone with no guitar to hide behind, no band mates to lean on; just his own voice filling the silent space of the Electric Factory. The audience was captivated.
Manchester Orchestra ended the set with “The Party’s Over (No Children)” but the crowd wasn’t ready to leave just yet. With an empty stage the audience petitioned for the band’s return in chant. The band returned for an encore and wrapped up the show with “The River”. The audience seemed contented, at least for the time being.
Songs performed (not 100% accurate set list:
April Fool, 100 Dollars, Pride, My Friend Marcus, Pale Black Eye, Pensacola, I’ve Got Friends, Shake It Out, Deer, I Can Barely Breathe, Colly Strings, The Only One, The Party’s Over (No Children)[encore break]
Virgin, Everything to Nothing, The River