Manchester Orchestra - live in Boston (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Manchester Orchestra

live in Boston (2011)

live show

I had every intention of checking out the Dear Hunter's opening set. I wouldn't consider myself part of his devoted, cult following, but I definitely enjoy Casey Crescenzo's ambitious, proggy indie/alt-rock. But by the time food and drink were consumed, they were nearly finished. Maybe we'll blame that on the House of Blues' (admittedly refreshing) early show time: a 6:30 p.m. start for a three-band bill. Even on a Saturday, that's pretty nice. I'm sure parents appreciated that too, as this crowd was noticeably really young. When I settled down on the floor with a half-full cup of UFO I had no intention of finishing, the Dear Hunter was just launching into an epic take on closer "This Body." Fortunately, though, that's a track from one of the few EPs in his massive Color Spectrum project that I've heard (Black). Crescenzo snarled the hook, "This body's not a temple, it's a prison" while he and his fellow bandmates wailed away.

There was actually a fair amount of elbow room and a nice view from the middle of the floor when Manchester Orchestra took the stage. The latter was probably due to the median age of this crowd--it had to be around 20. Pretty young, really. While it was interesting to see the band's fanbase here skewing a little lower than I normally saw in New York, it was also enjoyable to actually have a full view of the stage even at a meager 5'8". The band wasted no time, kicking it into high gear with "April Fool." Sing-alongs, fingerpoints and sporadic push-pits could be witnessed at various places in the audience, but they seemed relatively sedated overall. Par for the course, I'm sure.

You might be tempted to say the same for the band's set, but there were moments that proved otherwise. Manchester's been carefully tinkering their approach and song choice from tour to tour and this stop at Boston's spacious House of Blues was no different. I'm actually used to them skipping "Where Have You Been?" as the epic closer. I've seen them do it so often I shouldn't complain about its absence, really. But a more recent change seems to be Andy Hull sticking to the core of his band's catalog--past shows often featured lyrical and musical references to other bands, or even whole covers (the last time I saw them, he included bits of Willie Nelson's "The Party's Over" and the Mountain Goats' "No Children;" the time prior to that, "Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard" and Brand New; before that, they covered Neil Young...twice). Here, though, they were strictly business. But business is good, so why not?

Even so, amid straightforward versions of favorites like "100 Dollars" and the corrosive "Shake It Out", Hull gave the usual solo intro alteration to "The Only One" and shook up "Deer" with lyrical jabs at the crowd for clapping along and "fucking up" the band's rhythm (to which they applauded). Hull was often excusing himself for his lack of professionalism, but hell, the band drove through those songs well enough, I thought. They even added new grinding noise to the chilling "Virgin", and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Chris Freeman helped oompah out "Everything to Nothing."

Another change is how they approach the material on the aging I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child. In recent performances it felt like Hull had come to terms with the subjects of those songs and didn't feel a connection with them like he used to; but here, during the tense ache of "I Can Barely Breathe" and "Colly Strings," there definitely seemed to be something there for the first time in a while. It added a new emotion to an otherwise deliberately artistic and otherwise straight-rocking, guitar-spazzy set.

Set list (8:20-9:25):

  1. April Fool
  2. Pride
  3. 100 Dollars
  4. My Friend Marcus
  5. Pale Black Eye
  6. Pensacola
  7. I've Got Friends
  8. Shake It Out
  9. Deer
  10. I Can Barely Breathe
  11. Simple Math
  12. Colly Strings
  13. The Only One
    Encore (9:26-9:43):
  14. Virgin
  15. Everything to Nothing
  16. The River