I was standing in the outer hall of The Glasshouse’s main stage area when I began to hear a band’s sound check. Scores of fans began to move inside to watch Atlantan indie rock band Manchester Orchestra. The lights dimmed, and the band members began to walk on stage. The audience cheered in approval and a spotlight focused on lead singer Andy Hull. Hull then gently began serenading the crowd with their song Deer, to which the crowd replied with mass applause.
Girls drunkenly screamed the band member’s names and obnoxious fans climbed the guard rails. The band then began into their harder songs with distorted power chords and double bass, which was met with the crowd’s retaliation of moshing in bittersweet revenge.
Manchester Orchestra continues to tour in support of their most recent album Simple Math released in May. They have toured with the likes of such greats as Brand New and Thrice, and recently wrapped up the Honda Civic Tour supporting Blink-182 and My Chemical Romance. Headlining the PacTour is proof enough that the band is currently enjoying a great deal of popularity and success.
The band is comprised of guitarist and lead singer Hull, who bares a striking resemblance to Zach Galifianakis – nappy beard, beer belly, and all. Hull was joined at the Glasshouse by guitarist and backing vocalist Robert McDowell, bassist Jonathan Corley, drummer Tim Very, and keyboardist and MacBook Proist Chris “Lightning” Freeman, who also doubled as the second drummer when there were no keyboard parts or samples to play.
As the band moved through their set, they began playing songs likened to the simplicity and powerful grunge of Nirvana, but then toned it down a bit to obscure sounds and soft guitar similar to Modest Mouse and Built to Spill. There seemed to be a common theme with each song played: ‘This band reminds me of ____’ – fill in the blank. This isn’t something most bands aim for. (At least I hope not.)
They finished their set with popular tune “The Only One,” and came back out to play an encore of three more songs in response to the crowd’s juggernaut of applause. When their set finished, the audience began filing out of the Glasshouse’s narrow exit to form a giant line at the merchandise table. I left having enjoyed a night of music, but questioning the very music everyone had enjoyed that night.
It is one thing to take influence from music greats, but it is another thing to imitate them. This could have something to do with Manchester Orchestra being on their own label Favorite Gentlemen which is distributed by Sony Music Entertainment. In most cases for bands dealing with major labels, their sound is then lifted out of their hands and pushed through the meat grinder that is the corporate rock machine.
Manchester Orchestra is not unique, and while their performance may be spot on and on par with some of the best live entertainment today, their music is not so great. Bands like them play too hard on a catchy name, an image, and stealing from other bands to get their point across. Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists borrow, great artists steal,” but in the case of Manchester Orchestra, stealing is a crime.