Hot off the release of their bombastic new record COPE, Atlanta powerhouses Manchester Orchestra pulled through Philadelphia for a special two-night engagement at the TLA. Along for the ride were local post-hardcore juggernauts Balance and Composure and ManOrch’s close friend Kevin Devine + The Goddamn Band. I’ve been a major fan of Manchester Orchestra for years and, by some cruel happenstances, I have never been able to witness their live show until this night, the second show in Philly. My excitement was very prominent–maybe too much, by the look I received from the ticket-taker on my train.
On account of a minor delay on the aforementioned train, I found myself at the TLA a little late, and by the venue’s rules, I wasn’t able to properly shoot Kevin Devine’s set. After asking around, I found out that I just came in after his third song ended, so it was understandable why I couldn’t shoot. I, even later, found out that I missed my favorite song of his – “Cotton Crush” – so I kicked myself a bit. What I did see, however, was Kevin Devine in a new element to me. The last time I’d seen him perform was solo and acoustic on that very stage supporting mewithoutYou. This tour, for him, is the initial routing in support of his two new records Bulldozer and Bubblegum, pieces of which were performed with fervor. You can tell just by looking at Devine that he’s the kind of musical soul that puts every fiber of his being into his work, in both writing and performing. I’d never before seen anyone perform with such joy.
Devine and The Goddamn Band finished their set and seconds later, the team behind Balance and Composure began setting up. I took the time to ask around about comparisons between Devine’s setlist from the previous night and from five minutes ago and people told me it was pretty different, as expected. This meant that the remaining bands would probably do the same thing. Balance and Composure began their set in total darkness as the opening chords of live favorite “Void” filled the room. They followed with “Quake” and the room exploded. The band are relatively local to Philadelphia and their local fanbase is wildly strong so it was expected to see people going insane. The band played favorites from their acclaimed debut Separation and recent sophomore record The Things We Think We’re Missing, including “Keepsake” and single “Reflection”. The strong use of a fog machine and a cleverly-placed kaleidoscope backdrop set the scene for their post-hardcore/emo/”stoner rock” sound perfectly and they certainly didn’t disappoint.
After Balance and Composure expressed their gratitude to their fans and to their tourmates, they exited the stage. It didn’t take long for Manchester Orchestra to set up and when the lights went down, my ears turned up. Even though I was shooting right alongside the stage, I didn’t notice any movement in the darkness until the lights slowly came up to reveal frontman/conductor Andy Hull as he began to play “Deer”, the opener to their 2011 album Simple Math. The pace slowly picked up with each following song to an ultimate crescendo of noise in the middle of COPE single “Every Stone”. I was very excited to experience a completely different version of “Pride”, one of my favorite tracks off of my favorite record of theirs, Mean Everything to Nothing. It was sped up so tastefully that I didn’t know what to do with myself, but was enraptured in how strategically planned-out it was. It blew me away. At about the middle of their set, every member except Hull left the stage and Kevin Devine came back out to perform “Pyotr”, one of Bad Books‘ songs from their latest album II. The rest of Manchester’s set was comprised of favorite singles from their whole discography. The show closed with the unexpected addition of “After the Scripture”.
I was taken aback with Manchester Orchestra that night. There was a time in my life when I was purely obsessed with Mean Everything to Nothing, so it was nothing less than a pleasure to see them perform for the first time. The tour is currently winding down, but if it hasn’t hit your city yet, I certainly recommend that you hightail it to one of these shows. You won’t be disappointed.