Austin – I think we can all agree that inciting a mosh pit on a Tuesday night is impressive, regardless of the context. Let us all take a moment to applaud the southern-based rock band Manchester Orchestra for proving to us that any night is a good night to get crazy. Stirring up a frenzy at good ol’ Emo’s East in Austin, this charismatic ensemble is welcome back any time in my book.
All jokes aside, the band has a very dynamic and powerful live presence. For example, the first thing that comes to mind when I think about Manchester Orchestra is their range of sonic textures and colors. Songs go from being so sweet and pleasing, to being the epitome of hard rock; from soft and gentle croons, to metal-style screaming. Though this kind of tumultuousness in rock music isn’t uncommon, but it is usually isn’t very interesting. With MO, the transitions are sudden, but it is this suddenness that makes the experience so visceral.
Initiating their set with the old favorite “Shake It Out”, the group made quite an entrance. Though the song begins somewhat abrasively, it doesn’t stay that way. As you soldier your way across the topography of gritty guitars and harsh vocals, you finally make your way to a clearing. Decorated with simple and heartfelt lyrics, the sudden harmonic break transformed the wild crowd into a touched-by-the-lord group of Sunday morning church goers.
Though these Georgia natives reveal their bible belt roots with a slew of religious references, there is an obvious disassociation with this upbringing as most of these songs have angry, grief-ridden cores. Their newer songs tend to stay on the angry side of the spectrum, but there is always some kind of glimpse into the sensitivity that makes the songs so compelling. Whether it is a sudden break from heavy guitars to a beautiful melody, or simply the transparently earnest voice of lead singer Andy Hull, the songs never fail to stir some kind of deep-running and fervent response.
“Colly Strings” from the band’s debut full length back in 2006 was perhaps my favorite of the evening. It was a very aesthetically pleasing melody, made human by the nervous, boyish voice of the otherwise rugged-seeming frontman. This was a particularly enjoyable experience as it was placed conveniently between two of the bands heavier songs “I’ve Got Friends” and the title track off of their latest album, “Cope”. Providing us with a bit of sweet relief, the placement of the song was nearly as applaudable as the performance itself.
The finale of the set was a combination of the popular single from album number three, “Simple Math” and the upbeat rock anthem “The Only One”. As the song’s eerie guitar riff creeped into audibility, both men and women alike shrieked with excitement. The song’s unsettling backdrop quickly faded into a gleaming picture of stunning builds and cathartic breaks, as the audience jumped and shook accordingly with every turn.
There is no denying that these songs are dark and brooding, it’s the kind of emotional and physical exploration that we as people relate to. We relate to this troubled and misanthropic voice that each song speaks with, and there is comfort in that shared space. You can be lost and heartbroken, but you don’t have to be alone, and I imagine that many have found a home in the music and lyrics of the forever heart-wrenching Manchester Orchestra.
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