WASHINGTON, August 1, 2014 – Before Atlanta-based band Manchester Orchestra took the stage or even played a note during their recent performance at Silver Spring’s Fillmore in suburban Maryland, they somehow radiated something grand and important. Perhaps that’s due in part to their name.
“Manchester Orchestra” invokes any number of grand feelings, combining the musical history of that eponymous English city and the generally large scale of symphonic music. So it’s hard not expect big things from their live show.
All of this is likely intentional, as there is nothing small about what Manchester Orchestra does. This isn’t an intimate band, the kind that inspires personal, emotional reactions through its subtle gestures and nuances. No, this is band that’s intentionally over the top, blitzing audiences with wave after wave of intense musical flourishes. Manchester Orchestra wants the audience to feel every moment viscerally at full blast, and a bigger stage like the Fillmore’s only increases the band’s impact.
Manchester Orchestra is the vision of primary songwriter and front man Andy Hull. It’s really difficult to disassociate the band as a whole from Hull, considering how much it feels like an extension of this artist.
His legend looms large over the band’s history, back to those early days when he recorded his developing, fledgling band in high school. It tends to give him an aura that extends to the entire group.
Guitarist Robert McDowell and keyboardist Chris Freeman are the longest standing members and have been channeling their unique sounds with Hull’s since the very beginning.
But this is still Andy Hull’s creation. Over time, however he changes, so too does Manchester Orchestra.
As the band had evolved, it’s not so much their sound that’s changed as it is their scope. Manchester Orchestra feels larger and more imposing than they did when they were just starting out. Their current post-hardcore sound has become more expansive, even as they’ve stuck with most of the elements they established in their very beginning.
When Manchester Orchestra plays at a larger venue like the Fillmore, they really make the show feel like an event that focuses on their evolutionary expansion. The band keeps getting heavier, more substantial even as they become more melodic in their output. Their current sound isn’t necessarily louder, but everything coming from the guitars and keyboards has become thicker and deeper.
It’s easy to call this progression darker but that doesn’t feel accurate. Darkness has a way of bringing down the audience and creates an almost claustrophobic feeling during a live show. But that’s not what Manchester Orchestra was doing at the Fillmore. It’s not their current angle or aim.
Despite Hull’s lyrical and weighty themes, which tend to center around a sense of general and basic insecurity, the band’s songs are presented in a way that makes Manchester Orchestra’s overall sound feel uplifting. Individual parts bleed into one another – gives a sense of ensemble, of community, as Manchester Orchestra brings the audience along for the ride instead of creating an atmosphere of isolation or introspection.
Manchester Orchestra’s output-an ever-expanding sonic envelope that becomes more intense as they move closer to the show’s conclusion-feels extraordinarily inclusive. This is populist post-hardcore, where the melody serves as a way to incorporate as many people as humanly possible, allowing the audience to expand along with this band whose concept just keeps getting bigger all the time.