Manchester Orchestra kicked off its short run of Florida dates on Thursday, August 23 in Gainesville at the High Dive. The openers were Chris Staples (Pensacola, FL-based former frontman of Twothirtyeight, current solo act) and River City Extension (New Jersey indie-folk-rock).
I wrote this entry two days after the show but forgot to publish it...so, uh, here it is now!
As much as we all love music - and if you're reading this, I'm assuming that you really love music, just as much as I do - we all know that not all music is created equal. There are simply some bands we don't like. There are some bands we like a lot, but just don't hit us like our favorite bands do. And our favorite bands, well those are the bands we form deep bonds with. These are the bands that shape us, that make us the people we are. We feel things we've never experienced through lyrics we could never pen ourselves; we channel our emotion through musicianship we could never craft on our own.
But as much as we really, truly, endlessly love this music - to the point of nausea, to the point of obsession - it's my argument that it can only go so far in the studio. Even my all-time favorite records, the records with songs that I've listened to more times than I could ever care to count, can only do so much for me when I'm listening to them on my laptop, on my iPod, in my car, on my turntable, with my friends at a party, alone by myself in bed late at night. There's only so much that turning my stereo system up to its breaking point can do for me. And that's saying a lot, because as you all know...listening to music is the most cathartic thing there is. No matter how you listen to it, music can get you through just about anything.
But for me, it's when you're in a cramped, sweaty night club, with a few hundred other people who are there for the same reason you're there, that music really comes alive. There are those moments that you spend in your room memorizing these songs, playing them over and over until you know the melodies and beats not only in your mind, but in your bones....and then there are those moments that you spend watching these songs being performed in front of you, surrounded by strangers who know these songs in their bones, too, and those are the moments where the music takes on a new life. It's the moment that a lyric you've belted out to yourself two hundred times becomes all-encompassing, the moment where it completely takes you over. It's the moment that you absolutely forget about everything else going on in your life because all that matters is the experience you're getting at that very point in time. It's the moment that, even for people like us, who all we ever fucking do is listen to music all day, it's the moment that you say to yourself...oh man, I didn't know this song could sound like that. I didn't know music could be like that. I didn't know anything in the world could make me feel like that.
If you're anything like me, and I'm assuming you are like me because you're still reading this, then you already know exactly what I'm talking about. I don't really need to explain it further, because there's only so much that can be conveyed with words, at least the words I learned in school - so in some ways, I'm already done talking about the set I saw Manchester Orchestra play last week.
Usually when I "have" to write a show review (this will still never feel like work to me), I actually do end up procrastinating quite a bit. It's hard to communicate a live show for me. How do you explain the electricity running through the crowd, the passion of the band members? How do you explain the feeling of singing along to lyrics that are only extremely special to you because of past personal experiences? How do you know what it's like for me to yell out, "Now I can see / You mean everything to nothing"? There's no way it's the same for me as it is for you. We must perceive these lyrics, and all meaningful lyrics, differently. That must be what makes us human, right? But then again, maybe we can call it even and say that we feel the exact same way when we sing those lyrics, because hey, we're feeling something. And that's something we have in common...this music makes us feel something.
So at this point, the only time I write a show review is when I really get inspired by what I saw. In case you haven't been able to tell up to this point, Manchester Orchestra inspired me last week. There were a lot of moments where I zoned out, just singing along to the words and digesting the incredible chemistry that Andy Hull shares with Chris Freeman, Robert McDowell, Jonathan Corley and Tim Very. One of the best songs was "I Can Barely Breathe," which considering it's only one song, provides a lot of opportunities for you to completely lose your shit. Like when Hull let the crowd sing, "Come on, come on, it's the end of the world," or when he kept repeating the refrain of, "If you knew I was dying, would it change you?", or when the whole crowd seemingly lost its mind during the extended instrumental portions of this track. See, that's another thing I can't really describe in a show review - I can tell you that Manchester Orchestra played tight, I can tell you that they performed these songs pretty much as well as they could be performed, but I can't really explain the entire minutes of jamming instrumental parts. The parts that, even though I've seen this band play several times before, still seemed so brand new and so foreign to me. Have they played that well every time I've seen them? It seems impossible, but probably.
The best part about Manchester Orchestra is that seeing them perform their songs is a different experience every time. "Pride" never quite sounds the same twice, the drums of "Colly Strings" always bowl me over, and then there are songs like "The Only One," which they play different every time. This time, Hull took most of the song on his own a capella, with the whole band kicking in for a powerful ending. Of course there was the gang vocal part of "Pensacola" that played out to the delight of the Florida crowd. Hull played a new song, too, and I don't think he said the name but the title I took from it was "After The Scripture." He played it on its own with just an electric guitar, but that isn't how it'll appear on whatever album it may or may not show up on. My guess is that either the rest of the band isn't familiar enough with it yet, or they didn't want to play the 'real' version of the track - but regardless, it was an awesome song either way. It reminded me of "Deer," which the band opened with, but that could just be because Hull played it on his own. "The River" remains one of the best songs I've ever seen at the close of a set, and it was this song that really set the crowd off in a stir.
When Man Orch came back for their encore, they played a steaming version of "Virgin" to a crowd that was now ready to leave everything at the venue that night, and maybe it's just because this was my first time seeing any Simple Math material performed live, but the audience's reaction was stunning to me. Every song from the latest album was magnified hugely in my eyes by seeing them performed live. "Now That You're Home" and "I've Got Friends" kept the crowd going strong, but the closing wrecking ball of "Where Have You Been?" was the highlight of the show. It was during this song that I got the moment that made me want to write this review. This is one of the band's most meaningful songs, and certainly a fan favorite, but I've never seen two identical performances of it. This performance featured the dual drums from Very and Freeman, accompanied by Hull and McDowell jamming for what seemed like the longest minute of all time - and I mean that in the best way possible. It was one of those instrumental parts like I described earlier, where you zone out and just take it all in.
It's performances like these that make me listen to new music every day, wanting to find more and more songs to love. Watching these songs played live are a big part of why I listen to them in the first place, a big part of why I write about them. Last week, Manchester Orchestra became just the latest band to remind me why we all invest so much emotion and time into listening to and appreciating music.