As I made my way to the House of Blues last Saturday night to see Manchester Orchestra and Balance and Composure, I had to prepare myself for the emotional evening ahead. It had been years since I’d last seen Manchester Orchestra live, and in that time the Atlanta-based rock band had released Cope, another stellar addition to their hard-hitting discography.
The sold-out House of Blues was packed with fans awaiting the emotional lyrics and powerful rock as opener Kevin Devine & The Goddamn Band, a longtime friend of Manchester who has collaborated with the group several times, closed his set.
From the moment their set began with crashing cymbals and thunderous power chords, Balance and Composure brought their dark brand of alternative rock in full force. Lead vocalist Jon Simmons’ rough, gravely voice led the audience through angst-filled songs “Quake” and “Keepsake.” Smoke filled the stage during the climactic sections of “Tiny Raindrop” and “Reflection,” a theatrical touch rarely seen in rock shows at smaller venues.
Simmons let loose a powerful anger-fueled scream of “Can’t you see me crumbling?” through a megaphone during “When I Come Undone,” while “Enemy” featured a slow-burning build as the band engaged in a jam session. Simmons left everything onstage as he screamed “Promise me!” again and again before tossing his guitar off and marching to the wings during the set closer, “Notice Me.”
Manchester Orchestra began with an electrifying rendition of “Shake It Out” that carried into “Pensacola,” during which lead singer and guitarist Anthony Hull raised his hands expectantly as the crowd screamed the gang vocals about Florida-living. From start to finish, Hull entranced the audience, eliciting rousing cheers with dark lyrics like “Come on, come on, it’s the end of the world!”
Manchester Orchestra has the uncanny ability to switch from commanding, loud rock anthems with screaming vocals like “Cope” to venue-silencing songs with whisper-quiet harmonies such as “Colly Strings,” all while keeping the audience hanging off of every note.
Manchester Orchestra’s perfectly-penned one liners floored the entire House of Blues. As Hull screamed deeply personal confessions like, “When I fly solo, I fly so high,” audience members head-banged along. The songs “I’ve Got Friends” and “The River” delivered waves of heavy rock that built and crashed over and over with room-shaking descending bass riffs and wailing guitars.
While Hull is typically notoriously introverted, a more jovial side was present as he joked with male audience members who proclaimed their love. The epic “Everything To Nothing” began with a guitar duet so impressive (Robert McDowell’s lead guitar throughout the night perfectly complemented Hull), the band mates shared a high five afterwards.
The encore began with “Top Notch” and a surprise guest: Matt Sharp, the original bassist of Weezer. He joined Manchester Orchestra much to the delighted disbelief of the packed house, and the group launched into classic Weezer songs “Tired Of Sex” and crowd-favorite “Say It Ain’t So” as Sharp played beside them. Hauntingly beautiful “Simple Math” closed out the night, bringing down the house in the thunderously loud and intense fashion Manchester Orchestra does so well.
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