It was Halloween and New York got a nice, big treat thanks to Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra.Touring with the Annuals on the back of the expanded release of I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child (QRO review), Andy Hull & co. dropped a powerful, if somewhat disjointed, set at Bowery Ballroom (QRO venue review), going from stripped-down and soul-bearing to expansive and epic – and back again. Plus, they did this all the while decked out in costume.
Singer/songwriter Hull had the heaviest outfit, a furry onesy that made him look like a teddy bear with the hands and bearded head of a man (or like Papa Smurf, as a member of the audience called him when he was taking too long to tune between numbers). Keyboardist Chris Freeman was at the other end of the spectrum, bare-chested with only a flimsy dress, and make-up and monster masks also showed up on stage. The crowd might have been slightly light, thanks to the band having to compete with the holiday and Greenwich Village’s famed parade along Sixth Avenue, but that only meant the percentage of intense fans was high.
Manchester Orchestra opened things up with Hull playing solo, on the touching, but also knowing, “Do You Really Like Being Alone?” (though the irony of the situation was a bit too on the nose…), and while definitely moving as a song, it didn’t exactly jazz the crowd up. That job was left to the following “Wolves At Night” and “Now That You’re Home”, the explosive, impacting one-two opening combo of Losing a Child. The single-worthy “Wolves” (played earlier that day for Late Night with Conan O’Brien) is a gripping opener on the album and perhaps the night might have been better served with it as the opener then as well, especially as it led into “Home” really out-delivering its performance on record.
If there was a problem with the set, it was that the specific mix of quiet and loud numbers could be jarring, something better handled on Child. But that didn’t take away from the raw emotion of soft pieces like “Alone” or later song “I Can Feel Your Pain”, or raw power of loud numbers like “Wolves” or the night’s middle innings high point of “Golden Ticket” back-to-back with “I Can Barely Breathe”. These two songs feature great far away background vocals from Freeman, which translated perfectly into audience shout-alongs live, amping up the already impressive pieces.
Manchester Orchestra playing “Golden Ticket” live @ Bowery Ballroom, New York, NY:
Things naturally slipped a bit after that peak, but everything was brought right back into focus with the penultimate “Where Have You Been?”, whose mix of sharp and expansive was taken up a notch, live, thanks to much of the Annuals joining Manchester Orchestra on stage (all dressed-up as well, including one who was supposed to be Deadwood’s Al Swearengen, but instead looked like Cheech & Chong-era Cheech Martin or Nintendo’s Mario). The evening ended rather like it started, with a Hull-only, non-Child track, “The Party’s Over”, which was both dramatically moving, and also a touch over-dramatic in its obvious intentions, as Hull literally swept the spotlight from the stage as he left.
Soon to be touring the U.K. and Ireland, opening for fellow sons of the south, Kings of Leon, Manchester Orchestra look set to bring their sound to an even wider audience. But there’s a lot to be said for those who already know & love ‘em, and they were out in force on All Hallows Eve. While the order and telegraphing of objectives could be a little fine-tuned, look set for the group to get only bigger and bolder in the days to come.