MANHATTAN, NY—Andy Hull was feeling increasingly alienated and frustrated during his high school years in an Atlanta suburb that he spent his senior year studying at home. While home, he also wrote and recorded a full-length indie rock album, and then built a band, Manchester Orchestra, around his songs in 2004. He named the band after Manchester, a musically prolific city in England (The Hollies, the Bee Gees, and Herman’s Hermits during the British Invasion of the 1960s; The Smiths, the Buzzcocks, The Fall, New Order, and Joy Division during the late 1970s new wave; The Stone Roses and Oasis during the post-punk years later on). Manchester Orchestra is composed of Hull on vocals and rhythm guitar, lead guitarist Robert McDowell, keyboardist/percussionist Chris Freeman, bassist Andy Prince and drummer Tim Very. The group has released several EPs and four studio albums; Cope was released on April 1, 2014.
Manchester Orchestra headlined at the 3,000-capacity Terminal 5 on May 22, demonstrating how the band’s popularity is steadily increasing. The group opened with “Shake It Out” from the Mean Everything To Nothing album, then “Pensacola” from the Simple Math album, and maintained the intense wall of sound from there on. Throughout the set, songs built dynamic crescendos that stabilized to a hypnotic point, then built further up. A decrescendo would often follow when the vocals reappeared for a verse or chorus. The song “42,” originally recorded by Bad Books, a side project featuring Hull and Kevin Devine, tonight’s opening act, remained soft from beginning to end. “Colly Strings,” a song wrote to his wife before they married, might have qualified for an endearing moment.
Many songs, including “Everything To Nothing,” mixed the soft with the bombastic. During one of the encore songs, Devine came on stage to share lead vocals with Hull in a seven-minute version of “Where Have You Been?” That song, perhaps more than any other, nailed the band’s signature crescendo-decrescendo dynamic. This is how the band’s sound has evolved; while the vocals were often light and airy, the music often brutally pounded the head. On albums, Hull’s lyrics are self-questioning and perhaps even seem to seek a spiritual center, but in concert, the lyrics were largely indecipherable. Instead, the band fed its audience blast after blast of sonic boom, occasionally propelled by guitar duels between Hull and McDowell. Tonight, the band was less Pink Floyd rock and more Bad Brains mosh.
For more information on Manchester Orchestra, go to themanchesterorchestra.com.