Manchester Orchestra / Kevin Devine - live in Hoboken (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Manchester Orchestra / Kevin Devine

live in Hoboken (2008)

live show

My friend Justin and I trekked through a Long Island Expressway soaking in falling rainwater that, to the point of typing this tonight, hasn't really completely ceased. All told, it was a three-and-a-half-hour drive, thanks in large part to delay after delay, a wrong turn or two and a two-lane crunch in the Holland Tunnel -- but no complaints here, since I was a passenger. You see, Justin's a pretty big Manchester Orchestra fan, which is why he was more than willing to make such a long weekday drive. It doesn't entirely surprise me, though. Maybe he appreciates frontman Andy Hull's unflinchingly honest lyrics; the band's wild dynamics; the emotionally heady delivery; after this set, probably their no-bullshit live show, all aggression and earnestness spilled out in genius four-minute bursts.

When we finally got to Maxwell's in Hoboken, New Jersey from central Long Island, we were pleased to see that the hype from friends was right: This place was tiny. Really tiny. Although the bartender vaguely told us the special that night was a $2.75 Guinness -- failing to specify this was draft, not the $5 bottles, which we consequently got shook on it -- the atmosphere was great and the acoustics were shockingly clean and powerful for such a condensed space.

It was already about a quarter after 8 and Dead Confederate had begun their set. Although they didn't exactly sound like anyone on tour (or from the Brand New circle of friends in general), certain elements persisted. It was the short of shoegazing, psychedelia and `90s alternative-tinged melancholy that began with searing singing and ended with distressed cackling, often presented in a mesmerizing wall of sound. While DeadCon didn't have my attention captured at every single turn, it was definitely some interesting stuff, more often than not.

Looking back, it seems odd Kevin Devine -- and his noticeably Amish-esque beard -- only managed to do nine songs, because he played over 45 minutes. But I gotta say, it was a great case of quality over quantity. Though I just saw Devine play solo two weeks ago, this definitely wasn't a rehash. The venue was a fourth of the size, of course, and Devine had backup from his Goddamn Band. Because of that, things sounded considerably fuller and slightly more rock-oriented -- and way more dynamic, too. That was a nice surprise, since Devine's songs are worlds better when he's putting deliberate emphasis on the lows and louds of what he does. That he's got some really talented bandmates sure doesn't hurt, either; Brian Bonz humanized the electronic sputtering intro of "I Could Be with Anyone" (which opens Devine and the Band's new tour EP) by simply beatboxing, and it was sickly good. Like, if you weren't looking, you'd think it was coming from his keyboard or something. It was that unreal. Some other highlights included an even-more-epic-than-imaginable finish to "Cotton Crush" (even without Jesse Lacey's vocal cameo, which he didn't do here despite his attendance at the show), the always excellent "No Time Flat" and new song "My Brother's Blood." That last one closed the set, and it's still numbingly devastating when Devine goes into that howling climax; here, he was pretty much shaking by the time he'd finished yelling.

Set list (9:16-10:03):

  1. Carnival
  2. Another Bag of Bones
  3. I Could Be with Anyone
  4. No Time Flat
  5. Me and My Friends
  6. Longer That I'm Out Here
  7. Just Stay
  8. Cotton Crush
  9. My Brother's Blood
The few times I'd seen Manchester Orchestra had been great, though very slightly tainted by their mind-boggingly fratty NYC fanbase, who would create oddly aggressive push-mosh pits and yell things like "WHOOOO!!!" when Hull would be singing these minimal, emotionally overwhelming parts. If they were here tonight, I didn't even notice. The audience was nothing but patient and polite while the band rolled through a set-opening five or six songs (seriously), then busted into fun and vibrant sing-alongs when material was played off 2006's I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child.

But that opening salvo. Christ. I thought for a moment they were playing through the entirety of their forthcoming effort, Mean Everything to Nothing. Overall, these songs definitely didn't have the same immediacy their previous stuff possessed, but it's definitely good. They have more straightforward rock vibes, yet they're much weirder and less dynamic...while being more dynamic, if that makes any sense. The first featured an absolutely intense change where Hull screamed some lyric I can't quite recall; "Can I Borrow $100," which is what I believe YouTubers titled it, had Hull demonically repeating Satan's name to open it; the third had Hull talking about "the woman I forced you to be"; the fourth featured some interesting Modest Mouse-esque harmonies, snaps and vocal styles at one point; "Shake It Out" was great; and the album's title track, which might've been the best. It was stupid catchy while retaining clear sincerity, with a weird waltz-ish / off-time plunk combo at one point. There were some serious themes in here: of forced apathy (sample lyrics, from separate songs: "I don't care. / I never have." and "I don't give a good shit.") and what seemed like Hull's conflicting faith (there were lots of references to prayer, and that previous "I don't care" lyric followed something about waiting for God to save).

There were lots of neat alterations and flourishes played with in the familiar songs. Woven interludes caught us by surprise as they lead to recognizable riffs, while they managed to slip Kevin Devine's "You'll Only End Up Joining Them" into an intense bridge for "Where Have You Been?".

Hull also bridged a few songs with some short solo narratives, one of which I remember being absolutely aching, where he sung about crying himself to sleep at night, it was cast in a somehow sorrowful light while he followed it up by declaring he didn't care if we thought he was a pussy. This was all in the song, mind you.

The other rather notable character on stage was keyboardist/backup vocalist Chris Freeman, who would recklessly thrash about, play air guitar and throw his instruments with serious abandon. The dude was a goddamn firecracker. After "Where Have You Been?", everyone in the band but him and Hull immediately left the stage. He joined Hull center stage, and the two got on their knees and did a caustic rendition of Granddaddy's "Now It's On."

Set list (10:25-11:32):
  1. new song
  2. Can I Borrow $100 (fan-given title I think)
  3. new song
  4. new song
  5. Shake It Out
  6. Mean Everything to Nothing
  7. Wolves at Night
  8. ?
  9. Golden Ticket
  10. Now That You're Home
  11. I Can Barely Breathe
  12. ?
  13. Where Have You Been?
  14. Now It's On [Granddaddy cover]
And that was it. Although it was disappointing not to hear the fantastic "I Was a Lid" (c'mon! You're on tour supporting this EP, aren't you?), it was a very compelling hour and change. Manchester are continuing to collect buzz for good reason, and we can only hope Mean Everything to Nothing has a hidden beauty that reveals itself quickly come its 2009 release. I'm sure it's the case.