Album Review :
Concert Review: Manchester Orchestra, The Features

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Artists: Manchester Orchestra, The Features, Biffy Clyro, O’ Brother
Venue: The Trocadero Theatre, Philadelphia, PA
Date: April 3, 2010

Let me start this off by saying I’ve been to a good number of shows so far this year. Not as many as some of you, I’m sure, but enough for the following statement to have pretty significant meaning. Manchester Orchestra owned them all–even better than Jack’s Mannequin or Copeland’s farewell tour, both of which were fantastic.

I haven’t been this into a concert since I saw mewithoutYou last May, and I haven’t seen a crowd so in love with a band since Anberlin played here November 2008. It was, by all means, a most excellent evening.

While I had hoped to catch O’ Brother, whose album I reviewed for this site last year, some trouble at the box office left me waiting at the door until they had finished their set. What I heard from outside sounded nice though. Or maybe it was Biffy Clyro I heard from outside. Either way, if you have the chance to catch this tour, don’t skip out on the openers.

By the time I made it inside, The Features were setting up their gear. Not knowing anything about them, I planned to hang in the back and wait for Manchester Orchestra, who recently became one of my new favorite bands thanks to their sophomore release, Mean Everything to Nothing. But from the very first song, The Features caught my attention, and I was turning to my girlfriend saying, “Hey, these guys are good.” They play what I will cautiously call indie bar rock. You know: Modest Mouse meets Wilco. The guitars are scratchy, the vocals sharp, and the mood defiantly carefree. Many in the audience seemed to know the band already, and most of the rest of us were quickly won over. The Features charmed the crowd with a very organic balance of energy and melody, bursting into what seemed like jam sessions at random. But behind this, “Hey, it’s just rock and roll, so who cares?” attitude were some very well-crafted tunes, and for the first time in years, I’m considering buying one of the opening acts’ albums.

Local alternative station “radio 104.5” hosted the night, and apparently Manchester Orchestra blew up without me noticing, because the show was sold out days in advance–even without Thrice, who will join the tour later on as co-headliners. As the announcer introduced them, the crowd instantly tightened towards the front. Starting with the epic heavy rocker “Pride,” the band pounded out four or five songs before taking a breath. In a night riddled with technical problems, they managed to cram in all but one song from their latest album, along with a few old favorites and a preview of a new tune. There was very little stage banter, as Manchester Orchestra focused more on bringing us as much music as possible rather than entertaining us with their amateur stand-up comedy. Now, I love the banter with some bands (anyone who owns a live Five Iron Frenzy album knows what I’m talking about), but these guys had the rare gift of being able to maintain an intimate connection with the crowd without it. “I Can Feel a Hot One” almost had everyone crying, especially when singer Andy Hull changed the last lines to “And I almost felt love again… Where did I go wrong, where did I go wrong,” etc. He later said they would be recording soon after this tour, which of course was met with copious cheering. Their lengthy set began to wind down with a modified version of “The Only One.” Andy ran through the first two verses at a much slower pace than on the album, using only soft vocals and a single guitar. Then it launched into the incredibly rocking bridge/ending with the full band, as it sounds on the album. Awesome. For the final song, members of the other bands came out with extra drums and added percussion. After thanking the venue for letting them go ten minutes overtime, Manchester Orchestra left the stage without a gimmicky encore (which, after this many songs, they basically had no more to play anyway).