I know I really shouldn't whine first-world problems about missing a band when I'm already getting into a show for free, but it would have been nice if Columbia Records sent their runner BEFORE THE FUCKING SHOW STARTED. By the time the label had dropped off the guest list at Irving Plaza's box office, it was 8:00 and I was ready to strangle someone because O'Brother was done with their opening set. After Manchester, I was most stoked to see them. These dudes are doing a breathtaking Beggars-gone-post-rock sound I was really looking forward to seeing live and missed completely. They sounded pretty good from what I could hear downstairs, at least. Be sure to check out their recent EP, The Death of Day.
By this time I was just disgruntled and probably a little irritable but I went ahead to watch Biffy Clyro and the Features with an open mind. I had some weird pre-conceived notion that half of Biffy Clyro's songs were caustic, Blood Brothers-esque romps and half chill indie rock songs; their set validated my prediction--more or less, anyway. The three shirtless Scottish dudes opened with this slightly spazzy but Fugazi-influenced howler with charred chords and sharp screams. It made me think that this was a cool, comfort-zoneless choice for what this show's lineup presented. But the band would soon maneuver into a more melodic, radio-friendly indie rock style that garnered the biggest response when they played "The Captain." They had batches of fans scattered throughout the crowd, but these guys have apparently been around for 15 years, so it shouldn't have been terribly surprising they'd have some sort of following here. Tight, big sound (especially for just a trio), decently interesting set.
The Features looked and sounded a little bit like the carnivalistic aspects of Cursive's Happy Hollow, playing a wildly enthusiastic set that drew upon alt-country and indie rock. But to be fair, they've been around a year longer than Biffy Clyro, even, making them the longest-standing veterans of the show. The fact I hadn't even heard of them until this show was probably testament to them operating in a scene and DIY aesthetic that's far off whatever I'm apparently paying attention to. They engaged the crowd with their energy, scraggly beards and plenty of inspired clap-alongs.
I've only seen Manchester Orchestra touring to support the fantastic Mean Everything to Nothing once--but even that was an opening slot at Nassau Coliseum, and in which the band played mostly songs off their debut, I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child. So I was particularly anticipating seeing them playing a bunch off METN, and they did not disappoint in that regard--they played every song on it save "Tony the Tiger" and the hidden track ("Jimmy, He Whispers"). It felt like opening with the album's most bluesy, gritty, and lumbering track, "Pride," was risky, but it clearly paid off as the crowd was completely into it.
From there, frontman Andy Hull, currently sporting the "fat Jesus" look with a halo of facial hair surrounding his scowling, dynamic facial expression, started to intersperse a random song here and there. Granted, it wasn't as prevalent as the intimate Hoboken show I saw the band play in October 2008. Here it just included two stripped-down Neil Young covers and maybe some sort of solo creation as a penultimate prelude to show-closer "Where Have You Been?". But it helped maintain an astonishingly linear feel to the set that gave it cohesion and excitement--the band would really only take major pauses three times before their encore.
Hull also made fun of a guy's "SLAYER!" fist-pump. "You guys look kinda faggy," he observed. Keyboardist/second drummer/vocalist Chris Freeman pulled back the reigns a bit, answering, "You can't really say that..." "The gay community will be up in arms," Hull sarcastically mused in response--a fine mix of southern charm, hipster sensibilities and mild PC kiss-off...which makes a lot of sense, considering the band's sound.
The new song they played, which will they'll track officially in the summer as part of their upcoming full-length, had a cool vibe to it. It seemed a little more aggressive in spots and overall a bit more sinister.
Among the occasional flourishes the band applied was a version of "The Only One" that Hull played practically solo until the full band kicked in about halfway through to make for an absolutely raucous finish. It was moments like this, "Shake It Out" and "In My Teeth" where the crowd was most wild, inducing sloppy push-pits and staggered pogo-ing you could ignore if you were in the right place.
"Where Have You Been?" remains one of the band's most captivating live songs, and thus it's always a curiosity to see what treatment they give it with every new show. Here, it was maybe the best I've seen them do--a nearly 15-minute epic with extra drum assistance by members of O'Brother, and the bassist from Biffy Clyro coming out to add extra guitar layering to the jam session, which somehow didn't seem at all wanky. Hull managed to slip in that lyrical reference to Kevin Devine's "You'll Only End Up Joining Them," too ("Don't kill yourself / to raise the dead [repeated] / You'll only end up joining them [repeat]"), which adds a whole new intensity to the song that I've come to really love, while still finishing the song with the original's lyrics. A great finish to a show that only got more so as it went on.
Set list (10:11-11:20):
- Unknown Legend (Neil Young cover)
- In My Teeth
- 100 Dollars
- My Friend Marcus
- Shake It Out
- new song
- Colly Strings
- Walk On (Neil Young cover)
- Everything to Nothing
- I Can Feel a Hot One
- The River
- The Only One
- Now That You're Home
- I've Got Friends
- Where Have You Been?