Live Review: Manchester Orchestra, Lowry @ Star Bar 10/16/08

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Live Review: Manchester Orchestra, Lowry @ Star Bar 10/16/08

[Above: Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull]

Onstage, Manchester Orchestra mixes the captivating vocals and compelling arrangements of its records with hardcore guitar and screaming, as lead singer Andy Hull abandons his sweet, high tenor for larynx-wrenching wails. I could listen to his on-record singing voice for hours and be happier for it, but last night all I could think was what a shame it was.

Maybe I'm being unfair: As a newcomer to the band, I haven't had the opportunity to fall in love with its older material the way so many of my fellow Atlantans have. Last night's audience boasted plenty of devoted fans, with pauses between songs finding the room in a hush quieter than a packed bar should be. No one spoke. And Manchester was expert at manipulating the crowd's rapt emotion, working it into a hypnotic frenzy and making sure its energy rode on the band's musical waves. But I got the sense I was one of the only people in the room not completely enthralled.

Simiarly, the opening act, the Brooklyn-based band Lowry, toyed with the crowd. The five-piece followed stunning sequences of drawn-out dissonance and synth reverb with relatively unremarkable folk rock songs; every time they started to spin out and ramp up the volume, my breath would catch in my chest and I'd be captivated. Then they'd turn back toward their ordinary fare. (Not to mention, their vocalist's similarity to the Decemberists' Colin Meloy left me reeling throughout the set.)

Like their emotions, the Manchester wore its influences on its collective sleeve. Before one song, Hull announced, “We are aware that this song sounds a lot like Nirvana.” Before another: “This sounds like a Built To Spill song.” He also announced that the set was all new material, perhaps from their Oct. 14 EP Let My Pride Be What's Left Behind or from the forthcoming Mean Everything to Nothing LP (which they announced would hopefully come out in February 2009).

Still, the night wasn't without its high points-- namely, the between-song banter among the Manchester bandmates and the audience. In one telling moment, Hull attempted to re-tune after a false start. "This is tuned to C# minor. Do you know what that means?” he asked. “That's the shit the hardcore bands play. And I'm trying to be sensitive, god-dammit!”

Related links:
News: Manchester Orchestra returns with new EP, album, tour
Feature: The Best of What's Next
Feature: 4 to Watch: Manchester Orchestra

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