Live: Manchester Orchestra/Balance and Composure/Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band
HOUSE OF BLUES — 4/21/14: Yes! It was a Monday night at a packed House of Blues with one of my favorite bands of the last five years, Manchester Orchestra. It was a great start to an incredible fortnight of music that would include HAIM and Mogwai later in the week and a long list of bands stopping in Houston on their way to or from Psych Fest in Austin the following weekend.
I made it out early for a 7:30 start with the openers, Kevin Devine and the Goddamn Band, and walked in the door of House of Blues to an already solidly packed floor. I had seen Kevin Devine two years ago but probably didn’t give the act much of a chance because my excitement was focused on seeing Manchester Orchestra’s leader, Andy Hull (under the name of Right Away, Great Captain), play a solo set at SXSW later in the evening.
This time I found myself considerably more entertained by Kevin Devine. It should be noted that Manchester’s new bassist (their original bassist, Jonathan Corley, recently resigned from the group to follow a new career), Andy Prince, also plays in the Goddamn Band. Devine and company mostly played high-energy power-pop in the vein of Brendan Benson, but on occasion they veered into just enough stoner-rock territory to perk up the heavy music lovers in the audience. In other words, it makes complete sense that they would take some cues from Manchester Orchestra and pound our ears a little. Their drummer was especially fun to watch.
Balance and Composure should be an automatic thumbs up from any photographer, based on the name alone. The band took a decidedly darker tone than Kevin Devine’s power-pop sound. Shades of 1990s shoegazer band The Catherine Wheel and the slower side of Smashing Pumpkins, along with some other heavy ’90s influences, found their way through a short-but-sweet set. I got that nagging feeling of “I’ve heard this before but can’t quite place it” several times toward the end of their set, but despite the familiarity of the chord progressions, they took the evening’s energy up a level as the crowd filled in to the edges of the venue.
As Manchester Orchestra’s roadies got the stage ready, one could feel the spirit in the theater rise even further. The balcony was closed, so there were not any “lazy seat dwellers” to squash the tension. When the band’s new COPE banner was unfurled at the back of the stage area, a huge round of cheers went up. I made my way toward the photo pit in eager anticipation. As I said, this is one of my favorite bands, and my first chance to photograph them.
Beginning with “Shake It Out” from 2009’s Mean Everything to Nothing (released five years ago to the day of this concert), Manchester Orchestra, armed with the firepower of Vox, Ampeg, and Fender amplifiers and with Fender guitars, delivered fierce, loud alternative rock on the edge of “emo” without going into Jawbreaker territory. Early in the set, they played two of my personal favorites from 2011’s Simple Math, “Pensacola” and “Pale Black Eye”.
Between songs, a fan cried out “I LOVE YOU,” and lead singer Andy Hull quickly quipped, “Thank you, Mom.” Obviously, the band members were in a playful mood. Later on, Andy let the crowd know how “fucking stoked” they were to be playing for us, even though they hadn’t spoken much between songs. For those that just want less talk and more rock from their bands, their lack of banter was welcome, though later they talked quite a bit more between songs, with guitarist Robert McDowell claiming that he was the funny one of the band.
For the most part, the crowd reciprocated with a lack of annoying noise — either that, or the band was loud enough to drown out anyone who was talking. And the fans were extraordinary, belting out the choruses note-for-note along with Manchester Orchestra on a drunken Monday night.
Other mid-set highlights of the set include “The Ocean,” likely my favorite from COPE, and “I’ve Got Friends,” from the aforementioned Mean Everything to Nothing. You would think there’d be a mid-set lull, but not on this night. Later on, the group let us catch our breath with the Willie Nelson song “The Party’s Over,” before heading out for a break and an encore. They roared back out with their new single “Top Notch” and then wrapped up the evening with two favorites, “Simple Math” and “The Only One”.
Often, when a band reaches “House of Blues” status, they start to lose some of their core fans, but I am very happy to report that Manchester Orchestra seem like the kind of group that will keep their original fans happy while working diligently to accrue more and more new ones. END
(Photos [top to bottom]: Kevine Devine; Balance and Composure; Manchester Orchestra. All photos by Jason Smith.)