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A Formidable One-Two Punch

November 14th, 2011

Manchester Orchestra/White Denim – The Wellmont Theatre – November 13, 2011


Watching Manchester Orchestra blaze through its set at The Wellmont Theatre last night, the one word that kept popping into my mind was emotional. The music, largely pulled from the new album, Simple Math, as written and sung by frontman Andy Hull feels very autobiographical, and the emotions seemed to pour out in a very literal fashion. Angry songs sounded angry, apologetic songs had an apologetic feel but all the songs felt honest … and loud; very loud and intense. Most bands come out and ask, “How are you all feeling tonight?” But Manchester Orchestra played like some metaphysical therapist had asked the clichéd “How does that make you feel?”—and then supplied more than the shrink had bargained for.

The set began with “Deer,” as the album does, and everyone in the audience sang along from the start, like they’d spent considerable time listening to the disc on repeat and that they felt everything there was to feel in lyrics like “Dear everyone I ever really knew/ I acted like an asshole so I could keep my edge on you.” While the album has the subtleties of strings and well-polished harmonies to give it an almost operatic feel, the live versions were 100 percent visceral. It was like the difference between watching a well-orchestrated football game on television and getting flattened by a 250 lb. linebacker. Hull dripped with that emotion in every song as the band backed him doubly: double guitars, sometimes double drums and double-wide beards. Through new songs like “Pensacola” and older favorites like “100 Dollars” and “I’ve Got Friends,” the fist-pumping crowd was left to wonder how to summon those feelings every night.

In the opening slot, the guys in White Denim crammed as many musical ideas as they could into their 45-minute set, like a fortified cereal brimming with all of the recommended daily allowances. Barely pausing to take a breath, their 20-plus-minute stretches of songs and prog jams and instrumentals strung together to confound an unsuspecting audience that didn’t know when or if to applaud. Working almost exclusively off this year’s release, D, the band proved to be, once again, at the top of its high-energy game. The mixture of technical skill, tight interplay and brain-boogie songwriting proved to be a perfect Sunday night foil for Manchester Orchestra’s gut-punch set. —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com