Manchester Orchestra are a unique beast that attract a unique and fiercely dedicated fanbase. On this Sunday evening, the O2 Academy is bristling with anticipation of the show, and although the venue isn’t fully packed out, there is still a tangible nervous energy in the air.
With an audience so devoted to the headliners, any support is going to face a challenge when trying to win the room over. Not a problem for incendiary Aberdeen trio The Xcerts (****), who play with precision and passion, restraint but infectious emotion that makes their set a real experience. ‘Scatterbrain’ and ‘Slackerpop’ are truly abrasive compared to their album counterparts, with serrated riffs and distorted vocals, while the heartfelt ‘Distant Memory’ is given extra intensity by the waif-thin ball of energy that is frontman Murray Macleod. They get heads nodding, and will surely leave with new fans from this superb show.
Manchester Orchestra (*****) are on another level. Walking on-stage, triumphantly bearded, Andy Hull is one of the most likeable and charming frontmen in rock, with a powerful voice that is at the heart of the band’s sound. The set is a masterful balance of new material and fan favourites, as well as a few surprises. Tracks from latest album ‘Simple Math’ sound tight and fit effortlessly beside older tracks like ‘I’ve Got Friends’ and ‘I Can Barely Breathe’, and everything sounds visceral and fleshed out, particularly the raucous ‘Pride’ and furious ‘Shake It Out’. Drummer Jeremiah Edmond and keyboardist/percussionist Chris Freeman look like men possessed, keeping each track rolling on at a reckless pace, while the solid lead work and ethereal backing vocals of Robert McDowell perfectly compliment Andy‘s roars and riffs.
The true triumphs of the night are an achingly tender ‘Colly Strings’, followed by the awesome one-two punch of ‘Everything To Nothing’ and ‘The River’, which elevates this show into territories of near-perfection. It is a fan’s dream, which is only made better in the encore with the inclusion of Andy‘s inspired ode to 50 Cent and catchy singalong ‘Pensacola’. But it is left to possibly their best song, ‘Where Have You Been?’, to finally bring the show to a close. Delivered with conviction and an honest sense of personal emotion, it’s as if the audience is being invited to witness a confession from the band, as they throw themselves into every beat and note. It is a spectacularly raw display that is genuinely unforgettable. This is a band that you need in your life, and a band that you need to witness live.
Written by Grant Bailey