It’s been a couple of years since the American indie-rock powerhouse that is Manchester Orchestra have graced the stage of the renowned Shepherd’s Bush Empire. In that time anyone would be left in awe as to how the band has evolved professional and personally, from divergence into the Hollywood spotlight to newly found fatherhood. In the midst of this international tour and hot on the heels of the recent release of their fifth studio album A Black Mile to the Surface, the influence of these eclectic experiences meant for an incredibly anticipated evening for long-time and new-found fans alike.
Supporting act Slothrust set the tone for the evening through welcoming the crowd with downbeat tempos that were broken by descents into hard hitting instrumentals and sharp tongued, potent lyrics. The question of “Do you like cats? Of course you do, you sassy motherfucker!” being a distinguishable favourite.
Somewhat predictably, but in no way disappointingly, the main event unfolds with the opener from the new album, ‘The Maze’. Whilst the track is prominently a heart warming tribute to frontman Andy Hull’s newly born daughter Mayzie, when played live it takes on an edgier quality that feeds beautifully into the leading single from the album, ‘The Gold’. Come the chorus, the band cuts to deafening silence to let the crowd roar the lyrics back towards the stage, drowning out the tracks haunting vocals at times before the band takes back the reins.
As satisfying as it would’ve been to get lost in ABMTTS performed in its entirety to almost pinpoint perfection, performed live the album is joyfully scattered with imperfections and interruptions. Small ad-libs and sporadic moments throughout the show drag elements like the thrashing bassline of ‘The Moth’ into the spotlight on stage that could otherwise fall away or feel diminished in production.
Breaks from the new album saw the band delve into their rich back catalogue, bringing forth an onslaught of fan-favourites such as the ferocious ‘Shake It Out’, ‘Pale Black Eye’ and ‘I’ve Got Friends’ that could easily leave you to believe that this was a ‘greatest hits’ set rather than an album tour.
The diversity of the set list allowed for the interludes between the songs to be left for the remnant echoes of abrasive guitar or distorted vocals from the previous track. However, these transitions were instead used to tease the crowd, leaving most audience members on edge, wondering as to what they might play next. The pinnacle of this was in the final moments of ‘The Alien’ where the crowd eagerly awaited to see if their anticipation would be rewarded. Before Hull could finish the first line, the following track “Sunshine” was greeted with a rapturous applause that sounded to be equal parts relief and sheer joy, two emotions that wouldn’t usually be synonymous with a band that dwell in a sweet spot between hard hitting angst and heartwarming sincerity. Whilst ‘The Sunshine’ is prime example of the latter, the third and final track of a truly magnificent 17 minute sequence in ABMTTS most certainly represents the former. ‘The Grocery’ tangentially departs from the delicate indie lullaby into a form of tormented storytelling, where in the distorted crescendo of the track, Hull drops to his knees almost in a form of surrender.
With a huge presence on the stage, the band demands and retains your attention, but in the rare moments where your eyes stray from band to glance around at the audience, you witness an array of emotion etched across the faces of the fans. Whilst most of the crowd would have arrived aware of the inevitable emotionally charged moments expected for later on in the set, none could’ve prepared quite for the encore rendition of ‘I Can Feel A Hot One’.
The theme of storytelling has been consistent in the growth of the band over the last few years, from the personal to the cinematic, that leaves you anxiously waiting for the next chapter. This growth has seen the band bridge the gap between troubled indie sentiment and anthemic emo and this was never more evident than in the closing track of the evening. As it began, the evening is brought full circle back to ABMTTS. ‘The Silence’ revels in the bands rise through the commercial ranks, as when all is said and done and the band departs, the vocal hook reverberates around the venue thanks to the continued efforts of dedicated audience members and as the feedback from the instruments that litter the stage fades, you could be forgiven for thinking that you were in an grander arena or festival atmosphere rather than a tightly packed theatre from the 1900s in West London.