Thursday, May 26, 2011

Manchester Orchestra - The Mod Club, Toronto, May 16, 2011

So it's been a week and a half since this show.  And I've had a hard time finding the words to write about it.  (For those of you who know me, you are likely saying "who are you and what have you done with Lindsay?!  Generally, finding words is never a problem.  Reigning them in is usually the kicker).  I'm reminded of a conversation I had with my co-worker Mandy, also a music lover, who says she would have a hard time reviewing her favorite band's live show, because it would boil down to "They were awesome! (emphasis on the exclamation mark!!!  End of review)"  Have been kinda feeling like that until tonight where having listened to the new album on the way home my brain started churning and the floodgates have opened up!

I love this band.  Like, really, REALLY love them.  And it baffles me that they aren't so much bigger and well known than they are.  They have a great formation story, a fantastic group dynamic, and they are incredibly savvy at getting themselves out there to the public.  They have produced some great albums (for such a "young" band, they have a lot of very deep and meaningful material), and they are an eclectic group that have some interesting things to say.  They are a band that are right up my alley because the writing is from the depths of their souls.  They really mean it.  And a band that means it really does it for me.  Put more eloquently by Chris Shaban at the Far Beyond Footnotes 4 part article on the band, (and a highly required (!) read to get the full goods on Manchester Orchestra in a very entertaining and freakishly informative presentation):  "Hailing from the area surrounding Atlanta, Georgia and weighing in at a combined weight of 5 dudes, Manchester Orchestra is the kind of band that doesn’t wear their heart on the sleeve, it actually removes it from their collective chest and places it directly in front of the listener".  A-Freakin-Men, Chris Shaban.  This is a band that bleeds its art. 

My attendance at a Manchester Orchestra show has been a long time coming.  I had a FB friend who a little over a year ago messaged me, saying it seemed I saw a lot of live music, and that one of his favorite bands was playing in Toronto that week and I should check them out. I didn't make the show at the Phoenix last year, but in further conversations with said friend, (he being the inspiration for this blog), I did end up acquiring, listening to, and loving Manchester Orchestra's material.  My first real post in this blog was actually a review of their stuff.  (read it HERE if you want to know how I felt about them having been freshly introduced).  Fast forward to a few months ago, eagerly awaiting the new album ("Simple Math"....listen HERE, then go get it!!) and word of a tour, there was no way I was missing their T.O. show this time around and grabbed tickets as soon as they went on sale.  Was pleased that the show was taking place at the MOD club - great venue for the vertically challenged in the grand scheme of Toronto bar type venues.  Open room to accommodate a sea of moshing music fans...but they have a balcony, where I can place my (elderly) "ass too close to the sidewalk" self in an elevated direct view of what's happening on stage without risk of bodily harm.  Sweet!

So settled into our primo balcony spot, we were ready for an evening of hard core music.  There were 3 opening bands:

Harrison Hudson:   I liked these guys.  Those who actually did the required reading referenced above will see that Harrison Hudson has ties to Manchester Orchestra from way back.  HH looked more like an accountant than a rocker, but they sounded great.  Drummer was extremely enjoyable to watch as well.  I've said it before, I'll say it again....there is really nothing more entertaining and enjoyable than focusing on a drummer going to it.  There was nothing especially attractive about this guy until he started pounding on his drums...and then I was mesmerized by him.

O' Brother:  (aka, Poster Boys for an Herbal Essence commercial).  These guys were absolutely fascinating!  They were hard core head banging rockers.  The singer/guitar player had a really great and unique voice, but the crowd pleaser was the bassist.  He had a long, flowing, shiny mane of hair that he proceeded to thrash around for the duration of the set.  We were absolutely hypnotized by it!  And then he spit sparkle dust into the air!  Twice!  (I'm not shitting you...he really did!).  As well as being entertaining to watch, they were a solid sounding band with a heavy alt-rock sound.  I may check them out further.

An Horse:  By the time An Horse hit the stage I was cranky.  It was already 10pm-ish and I was getting a little antsy to see the band I was there to see.  Get ON with it already.  They were good - consisted of an androgynous looking girl who sang and played guitar and a drummer.  Again, good sound, but enough already, bring on M.O. and I was willing to accept no substitutes at this point!  It was Monday night and I was tired and it was very closely approaching "pastmybedtime" on a night I had to "havemyass@mydeskat9AMthenextday" situation.  I was seriously fading...(not very rock and roll of me, but cut me some slack.  I'm a single Mom who works in banking to pay the bills...Rocker chick is my side job/alter ego.  When I win the lottery, I can do this full time....kay?!).
Enter Manchester Orchestra:

The moment they hit the stage, all crankiness subsided and every fiber of my being was wide a-freakin'-wake.  I don't know a band that can rock the hell out of our national anthem, but MO did it to open the show.  (and seeing a crowd full of alt rockers/Andy look-a-like/wannabes belting out Oh Canada at the top of their lungs put a smile on my face that stayed there for the rest of the night!)

They played a wide selection from their older, and their newly released album and the flow of the show was fantastic.  Andy would whip the crowd up into a frenzy with a hard pumping tune like "Shake it Out", and keep THAT momentum going through the entire set.  These were fans...they knew every tune and belted it out along with the band.

I didn't really know where to focus!  Chris was a maniac on keys and drums (and barefoot - I've never seen such expressive feet before!).  The man did not stop moving for a second...the music flowed through his body like a non-stop electrical current.  Robert rocked the shit out of his guitar.  He's a tiny little man...and the dude can play.  Jonathan kind of hung back behind Robert with the bass but I found my eye line being drawn to him frequently.  M.O. songs have a lot of very cool bass lines throughout so it was hard not to be caught up by him.  Tim Very on drums was putting on a class in awe inspiring intensity.  But it was Andy, as any good front man should, that held my attention the most.  With frantic guitar playing, and a spectrum of vocals from whispery to belt out screams, Andy conducted the band, and the audience expertly.  We, especially, were at his mercy, worshipping at the alter of Manchester O.



Andy "speaking" to an audience member....

Non-musical stand out moments:  Andy bent over to speak to someone in the crowd a couple of times.  And then came to the mic to apologize saying he'd witnessed some woman beating and that "he isn't a fan!"  (caught on YouTube during "100 Dollars" if you want to see it).  And, as the crowd became more and more frenzied and the moshing became more and more violent, Andy actually worked a plea into the lyrics of the song for the crowd to calm....when they didn't take the hint, he marched to the mic and said "I'm serious...stop fucking moshing!" then changed the lyric to the next verse to "I'm sorry we aren't a hard-core band".  There was no more moshing happening - the disciples were told and obediently stopped!  When your God speaks, you listen!  

Loved as well the comradery between band members.  While their lyrics are sometimes deep and brooding, you can tell they all really like each other.  Any life drama they endure may get worked into their songs, however, there is a genuine affection for each other that is plain to see.  Couple of moments of Andy and Robert good naturedly ribbing each other, and then them hugging it out.

Stand out moments of the musical variety (my oh-so-favorite kind!):

For me, my favorite moment had to be when they played "The River".  This tune was a stand out for me when I first heard the recorded version - it's a definite "build" song.  It starts out soft but layers into a blistering intensity.  Hearing it live was mint.  Andy worked himself into such a frenzy wailing away on the guitar and feeling the lyrics that he broke his strap and it clattered to the floor...but no matter, he picked it up, carried on playing and singing while the tech came and fixed it for him.  Even with the guitar a little out of tune from the impact, it was a mind blowing display and made the performance a little more raw and real.

Also, a lot of my favorites off the new album sounded fantastic in a live setting.  There is a lot going on stylistically and structurally in songs like "Virgin", "April Fool" and my current favorite off the new album "Pale Black Eye", and even the title track.  Stripped down for the live performance, they sounded even better.  Just goes to show that a well written song, musically and lyrically, stands up and then some when altered for a live setting.  Only tune I didn't really care for live was "The Only One", because they messed with the tempo, but even then, I can't say it wasn't good.  
In a fitting ending, the band (joined by members of the various opening bands), sent out the final prayer/blessing with "Where Have You Been" on a darkened stage.  It was an epic and frenetic take over their bodies display, finishing with Andy, alone, curled up in fetal position on the stage uttering his last note while the feedback of the guitar droned on.  Everything they had in them, blood, guts, soul, was left on that stage.  And in a tell tale sign that I was enthralled for the duration, I couldn't believe it was over, as it felt like it was about 10 minutes even though they played a little over an hour and a half.

 In closing (yes, anyone even still reading?), I do need to say this.....I had a conversation with a fellow music lover about Manchester Orchestra where he admitted that they were very cool in my various attempts to get him on board with them, but that they just didn't "viscerally kick him in the ass". I get his point - in order to love a band the way "I" love Manchester Orchestra, you need to feel that connection to them, where they reach you on an emotional, or "feel it in your guts" way. As a music fan who "listens to feel" as opposed to "listens to hear", I get it.... They just hadn't reached him. (Yet.  I shall keep trying!).  Love of music is not something you can quantify... it's a lyric that grabs your attention and means something to you, or a melody that sticks with you and draws you in as it flows through your brain.  Or an emotional punch of a piece of a song that you can personally connect with that opens you up to them.  It's not something you can achieve by watching a few YouTube videos or listening to a couple clips of songs usually.  You need to give in to a baptism, and it will either happen or it won't.  However.....  Had he been at this show, he'd have walked out a convert, no question.  His ass would have been viscerally kicked black and blue, and he'd be feeling the reverberation of it for a good long while.  There is no way you could walk out of this show and NOT leave having been affected on some deeper level.  God I love the live band experience!

Hallelujah and Amen.  Religious experience (of the musical variety) achieved.  (and then some!)

Set List:
(Note:  I have yet to find a complete set list for this show - the below are tunes I know they played, but in no particular order.)
Virgin, April Fool, Pensacola, Simple Math, Shake it out, Pride, The River, Everything to Nothing, My Friend Marcus, 100 Dollars, I've got friends, The only one, Where Have You Been.

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