While I see a lot of concerts, I generally make it a policy not to see any band that arrives in a tour bus, is on a tour named for a corporate sponsor, plays at a venue where fans are separated from the stage by security guards, is on a major record label, whose concert is sponsored by an "alternative" radio station, or whose fans are young enough to be my hypothetical children. I'm pretty good at keeping to these rules, but occasionally I'll get myself into trouble by seeing a small indie band that's opening for a band I had never heard of and thus incorrectly assumed would be small. Turns out Manchester Orchestra is big. Its tour bus is big, the Beaumont Club is big, 96.5 "The Buzz" is big, Columbia Records is big, and its fans scream as only sixteen-year-old girls can scream. I was dragged into this circus by supporting act An Horse, and while I stood in line for nearly an hour, I began to wonder how I could have made such a serious miscalculation.
As Kate and I approached the front of the line, we could hear opener Harrison Hudson begin its first song. It was 8:00. Thankfully An Horse's publicist was true to his word – my credentials were approved, and Kate and I made our way into the cavernous, yet already-crowded Beaumont. Knowing the band had just begun its third song, I rushed to the camera pit and snapped a dozen shots of the three band members. A kind security guard let me stick around for the fourth song to ensure that I captured every combination of flashing light reflected in the thick-framed glasses of the band's namesake frontman. Then it was back into the throngs to get perspective.
Harrison Hudson is a three-piece band from Nashville Tennessee fronted by (of course) Harrison Hudson. Aside from his name, Hudson provides vocals and guitar to the band. His voice has enough of a twang to add interest to his vocals and to lend some legitimacy to his pompadour, but his backing band could have been replaced by cardboard cut outs. I'm happy admit to that the bass lines did add bounce to the band's alternative pop rock, but they did nothing for bassist Brandon Dees who stood motionless throughout the half-hour set. Drummer Shaun Rawlings had even less working in his favour; not only did he provide no flash, energy or emotion, but he also played drum parts so simple that one might have thought that the songs were taught to him that morning. Hudson spoke encouragingly about a forthcoming album, but sheepishly admitted it wasn't yet finished despite spending eight months in the studio working on it. Hudson blamed this time away from the stage when he was forced to stop the band's performance of "Katy Perry, Could You Fall In Love With Me" to ask the audience for lyrical cues. Of course the audience ate this up, cheered wildly, and generally enjoyed the band. And why shouldn't they? Sure the band offers nothing new, but they do revisit a popular genre and perform it satisfactorily. God I hope my tombstone reads better than that.
The stage was quickly turned over to coed Australian duo An Horse. The band is touring in support of its second album, the just-released Walls on Mom & Pop Music (the new label venture of the wildly successful major label player Michael Goldstone). Vocalist and guitarist Kate Cooper leads the band, providing full-throated, heavily-accented vocals and a surprisingly full guitar sound to the band's punky alternative rock. Drummer Damon Cox's style is simple, but explosive. His vocals back up Cooper's nicely, and rival hers when the two exchange overlapping vocal lines.
Curiously, Cooper's on-stage interaction with Cox was sparse; I find most duos frequently share knowing glances to adjust timing, prepare for changes, and the like, but aside from several brief walks towards Cox's kit, Cooper seemed content to stand behind her microphone, eyes either squinted shut or focused on some imaginary point out over the audience. Similarly, Cooper didn't devote much energy to engaging the anxious crowd. Although she was happy to demonstrate that anytime she would say the world "Australia" the audience would erupt in cheers. Even this was soon eclipsed by Manchester Orchestra's more experienced Andy Hull, who demonstrated the crowd's penultimate volume could be achieved by uttering the words "Kansas City" instead.
An Horse's music is an exciting jolt of energy both on stage and recorded, however the sound at The Beaumont suppressed many of the dynamic volume changes that add interest to the band's songs. The result was a performance that barrelled full speed ahead for 35 minutes, without ever offering the audience an avenue in to embrace the songs' rolling rhythms and genuine lyrics. I suspect there are better venues for this band.
After 25 minutes and a flurry of activity from sound technicians and roadies, Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull stepped to the centre of the stage with his electric guitar. As the spotlight hit Hull, he began singing – at least I believe he did. Any vocals from the house sound system were immediately drowned out by a crowd that knew every word to the song. And it just wasn't this song, but every song performed in the band's nearly-two-hour set – even the songs from the band's forthcoming album Simple Math (due out May 10th on Perfect Gentleman/Columbia). It was a wise label executive that insisted the band's album be made available for streaming last week.
The rest of the band's set can only be described as huge. Hull's vocals were enormous, and the rhythm section boomed through the club. While there are many elements on Simple Math that recall the well-composed breezy rock of Bright Eyes, when performed live, everything sounded like Them Crooked Vultures with each instrument louder and more punishing than the next. This was hard rock. Furthermore, the dynamics missing for An Horse's set were found here in spades, with choruses that exploded out from verses. I was not prepared for this.
Nor was I prepared for the coarse stage banter of Hull. The number of expletives spewed from the stage was embarrassing. Has this young man no mother? Once, when briefly pausing to tell a story (and allow the quintet to catch its breath), Hull was interrupted by screaming Beatlemania-esque fans so many times that he repeatedly shouted "Shut the F&^k up!" at his audience. Of course the audience only thrived on the verbal abuse, sending everything spiralling out of control. On reflection, I think Hull is brighter than I initially gave him credit for, and that this hysteria was entirely his goal. That said, I don't believe any such genius was at play when he repeatedly whined about the lights, the stage monitors, or the microphone.
Having limited experience with Manchester Orchestra, I can't provide a full rundown of the songs featured as part of the set. I recall a curious a cappella retelling of the Sunday school staple "The Wise Man Built His House Upon the Rock," the tight harmonies in "50 Cent is My Favorite Rapper," and how the audience sang almost the entirety of "The Only One" without the band. This wasn't because some hack frontman held the microphone out for the crowd, or asked them to sing along "if they knew the words," but simply because Hull stopped singing himself. The audience continued on, just has they had the entire set.
After the band finished its final number and left the stage, the still-hungry crowd erupted in cheers for an encore. Thirty seconds later, Hull was back on the stage where he obliged his fans with a weary version of Willie Nelson's "The Party's Over" featuring several borrowed stanza's from The Mountain Goat's "No Children." When he let the microphone hit the stage after his final "turn out the lights," the house lights and sound system came to life signalling the impudent crowd that the show was really over.
After finding the back exit guarded, I joined the queue to exit through the front doors. The line to leave the club was nearly as long as the line to to get in, and by the time I made it out and over to the rack where I had chained up my scooter, I discovered that some amped concert-goer had kicked over my bike, denting it and sending fuel spewing onto the pavement. I'll say it again, there's a reason that I don't see bands that arrive in tour busses.