Manchester Orchestra | Live Review

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There are shows when Manchester Orchestra demand the attention of the room with their urgency and ferocity, but tonight the band are walking a more complacent line.

It has been three years since Manchester Orchestra visited Bristol. The last time they were here the crowd at the 02 Academy bore witness to a show of perfect balance between emotional intensity, driving riffs and a melancholy atmosphere unqiue to the band themselves. It is clear from the sheer number of fans in attendance tonight that, after their three-year absence, they have been missed.

The Fleece is crammed wall-to-wall before support Gang of Youths have a chance to take the stage. They are a mismatched lot with an air of the manufactured about them. Efforts have clearly been made to emphasise the ‘gang’ aspect of their aesthetic, but the effect makes Gang Of Youths feel like one of those hokey bands playing out-the-box pop at the prom in a teen movie.

Unfortunately their ambitious concept-rock falls flat tonight. Besides the monolithic presence of frontman Dave Leaupepe the band look lost onstage, and the sound is murky, losing any definition and tone. Add to this guitar troubles and out-of-tune instruments and the performance becomes a show to endure. It’s a shame for a band who have a reputation for injecting energy into apathetic crowds, but everything is against them for this show.

It is weird to be stood in a small room with a band like Manchester Orchestra, surrounded by fans, in an atmosphere curiously lacking tension or excitement. Something special should be brewing but tonight the ingredients don’t mix and Manchester Orchestra fail to truly ignite. The night starts on a promising note. ‘Shake It Out’ is a powerful opener that delivers an initial burst of adrenaline, which is followed by the airy and more refined ‘Pensacola’ and ‘Pale Black Eye’. The setlist contains a good mix of old and new. For fresh fans there is ‘Cope’, haphazardly placed in the middle of the set but still a force of distorted guitars, while for the old faithfuls there is ‘I Can Barely Breathe’ and ‘Colly Strings’, both delivered with guts by a leaner, meaner, beardier Andy Hull.

Latest album ‘Cope’ has been a commercial success so far in the UK, more so that previous releases (a point Andy brings up tonight), but it is hard to deny the narrowing bracket of their sound, moving away from the gentle indie of old into heavier territory. While this may bring in new fans it has cost Manchester Orchestra some of their soul, soul which is missing from the new material in a live environment. Of all the new tracks aired tonight ‘Top Notch’ lands best, but the night really belongs to the classic material taken from ‘Mean Everything to Nothing’ and ‘Simple Math’. ‘Pride’ is still the brashest track the band have penned while the back-to-back impact of ‘Mean Everything to Nothing’ and ‘The River’ reminds the room that there was a time when Manchester Orchestra could deal in restraint as well as power.

Manchester Orchestra’s visit to The Fleece is a missed opportunity for a truly memorable night. The band are capable of elevating their performance; their version of ‘No More Children’ by the Mountain Goats is a real treat, but too often it feels like the band are going through the motions. The omission of setlist regular ‘Where Have You Been’ robs the performance of the intensity they were able to generate at their 02 Academy show three years ago, while greener tracks like ‘The Ocean’ aren’t natural crowd pleasers and need more time to embed themselves. There are shows when Manchester Orchestra demand the attention of the room with their urgency and ferocity, but tonight the band are walking a more complacent line.

Listen to recent track ‘Top Notch’ here: