|Andy Hull of Manchester Orchestra. All photos (c) PMR|
Manchester Orchestra's sold out show at Mr. Smalls opened with Brick and Mortar. They were two guys – one drum/synth player, one bass. I walked in on the bassist/vocalist apologizing for opening up to a room full of strangers, then telling a story about how his dad is this exiled con-man/hustler, and how the only way he'll ever get to play in front of him is if we support the band enough to launch their careers to the point where they're big enough to play overseas. (No pressure, right?) The crowd responded well to the duo's energy, as well as their big, hand-painted sign telling people to yell "Hey!" One song was about "corporations stealing people's rights," and the others were equally earnest.
The Mowgli's followed. I had a hard time with their set simply because I wasn't expecting it. I figured the openers for Manchester Orchestra would be a hard rock band, not a cheerful six-piece pop outfit from sunny SoCal. I suppose that's my fault for not listening to the openers ahead of time. Or maybe I was expecting something more in line with "Mogwai."
In any event, once I got over the initial surprise I was reminded a bit of the Kopecky Family Band, who took up the whole stage at Club Cafe a couple weeks ago. The male and female co-lead singers shared upbeat harmonies on warm, happy songs that make me want to move to California. It would have been nice to have had some horns onstage, like are present in the album version of the band's big hit, "San Francisco." They played only a handful of songs; I think Brick and Mortar may have been onstage longer. Again, it wasn't bad, it just didn't fit at all with the headliner. Someone must have read over all three bands' lyrics sheets and put the bill together without actually listening to any of their albums.
Eventually, after a more than thirty minute wait, Manchester Orchestra took the stage. The band played two huge festivals the two nights prior to the show, so playing Mr. Smalls must have been something of a come down for the group. If it was, they didn't let it show.
Frontman Andy Hull looked and sounded like a more intense Jim James, from My Morning Jacket. The band was loud, but not particularly heavy; the closest the crowd came to moshing was some exuberant hopping. That's when I remembered – I've come to this band late. Their first album was unabashed emo, with songs titled "Don't Let Them See You Cry" and "I Can Feel Your Pain." (I should have known something was up when I saw their roadie wearing a Brand New shirt.) The crowd was young, with an average age somewhere in the early 20s, and most sang along with every song, especially the more stripped down numbers that featured a spotlit Hull. It was, after all, the lyrics that carried the most heft.
Here are some photos from the performances: