Gig Review

Manchester Orchestra
The Xcerts
London, Koko
7th October 2011
Manchester Orchestra      The Xcerts
My first visit to Camden's KOKO, and what a treat in store. After catching Manchester Orchestra at their opening UK tour date in Bristol, I knew this was going to be a corker. Following what is arguably the best album of 2011 (even with a two months still to go), Manchester Orchestra end their spree of UK dates here in London for a sold out show.

You enter KOKO via a tunnelled walkway that spits you out on a balcony that overlooks the sound-desk and down into the pit beyond. Stairs whisk you up to the heavens or down to stage level depending on your nosebleed tendencies, and from the lower levels you can gaze up in awe at all the balconied cubbyholes that fill the enormously tall walls of this beautiful venue.

First up were The Xcerts, the Scottish thrash-pop three-piece who have managed to secure supporting slots with some incredible acts over the past few years. In all honesty, I wasn't overly impressed during the Bristol show but the wondrous entrance to this exquisite venue had filled me with a renewed sense of openness; and I'm pleased to report that the second time around, it was an enjoyable set. I think my initial qualm was that they don't really sound anything like Manchester Orchestra and so were an odd choice for support, but once you get over that, they're a cracking edition to Scotland's growing arsenal of energetic bands. Combinations of small gentle sections contrasted with pounding thrashy pacey choruses seem to fill Xcerts' repertoire, and a distinctly Scottish distorted vocal squawks above. With only a half an hour set, the trio had just enough time to play a decent introduction to the band, including Carnival Time and Slackerpop which features one of the most memorable choruses I've heard in a long while. There's something about an elongated “woo” which lodges itself firmly in a gap between your memory bank and voice-box and leaves you forever woo-ing tunefully. The vocalist would shake his head wildly whilst singing, flicking his long blonde hair everywhere like some kind of dandy lion. (See what I did there?) And what polite gentlemen too, clearly honoured to be there, and to be listened to. The crowd responded well (there were a lot of Scots in actually,) and gave applause aplenty as the final song ended and the singer stood at the front of the stage calling out the chorus line over and over amid a wall of fuzz, as the other two left the stage. And then we were left in silence, to unwillingly sing our own tributes to that Slackerpop chorus.

Next up was the main event, the real deal; Manchester Orchestra. Front man Andy Hull took to the stage accompanied by lead guitarist Robert McDowell and keyboardist Chris Freeman – the latter two members providing backing vocals for the first track of the set, and the opener to the new album, Deer. Instantly, the room was transfixed; not only by the beauty of the song, but by the brilliance of Hull's live voice. Singing along at the top of our lungs, this was a beautiful start to the show. Now the whole room was one family, and drummer Tim Very and bassist Jonathan Corley joined the others on stage. Next up was Pride from 2009's Mean Everything To Nothing – a track which starts off gentle enough but soon develops into a a monster rock track. This was a slightly improvised version of the song which really built up the outro, and escalated the ending riff into an outrageously exhilarating rock stomp. The crowd had barely got their breath back when April Fool exploded off the stage, one of my top picks from the excellent new album Simple Math – followed by 100 Dollars and My Friend Marcus, both of which were crowd-favourites. And then an old one for the core fans, the thrashtastic Now That You're Home.

The band looked incredibly comfortable on stage, with Andy Hull screaming wide-eyed into his microphone staring up at the walls full of fans, snapping away to pace around the stage and grin at the other band members, whilst Chris Freeman sat at his keyboard head-banging harder than anyone sitting down ever has before. Occasionally he would about turn and play a smaller drum kit, mimicking the efforts of Tim Very who put a tremendous amount of enthusiasm into his big hits. McDowell provided high backing vocals from behind a screen of floppy blonde hair and seemed to be enjoying himself, whilst Corley on bass did what Corley does best; standing calmly, looking up into space.

Next up, and possibly one of the strongest live songs from the night was Pale Black Eye- a track with incredible flow and grooves galore, even if the subject matter is a little sombre. This was followed by Pensacola, I've Got Friends, Shake It Out, and I Can Barely Breathe. Then, some pre-song-warm-up twiddles from McDowell and Hull could only mean one thing; the slow yet stunning Simple Math was upon us, and everyone tried their best to sing along to Hull's re-ordering of the lyrics. The main set finished with an early Colly Strings and a new rendition of The Only One. This started as a slow and soft version, just Andy, the audience, and his guitar. He asked that there was no rhythmic clapping (it only puts him off) but asked that everyone sang along. Unless they didn't know the song in which case “it's on us.” But of course, we all new the song and obliged in joining him in chorus. As the song drew to a close, it exploded into a full-band outro and rocked Camden Town to its core.

The start of the encore was something very new to this tour, and it came in the shape of Virgin. Whilst this might not strike you as a surprising addition, what with it being a (stupidly incredible) single, it hasn't featured on this UK tour due to the type of guitar used in its recorded. However, the band had hired out a baritone guitar just for this night, and this song. Alas, things didn't go quite to plan. If you've seen footage of the song being played live on the David Letterman show, you'll know that the intro is somewhat ignored and the song kicks off from verse two, which is fine. And a similar format was followed here in KOKO except that, the first verse was used instead of the second and subsequently didn't fit as well. There was a faint glimmer of disappointment in Hull's eyes as he realised this wasn't going to work, but the rest of the song continued seamlessly. Then, back to the main guitar for Mean Everything To Nothing, my favourite from the album of the same name, and The River, before closing with Turn Out The Lights, for which we returned to the opening line up of Hull on lead and McDowell and Freeman on backing vocals. This was a track from the Myspace Transmissions EP and is mainly about dying; but alas, the lyrics “turn out the lights, the party's over, and they say all good things must end. So turn out the lights, the party's over, and tomorrow we'll start the same old shit again.”

A delightful end to an impeccable show, and an extraordinary band. I have a serious amount of time for Manchester Orchestra.

The Xcerts – 4.5/5
Manchester Orchestra– 5/5

Review By Thom Curtis

 Manchester Orchestra

Andy Hull
Jonathan Corley
Chris Freeman
Robert McDowell
Tim Very

 The Xcerts

Murray Macleod
Jordan Smith
Tom Heron

 Band Related Links
Manchester Orchestra Myspace
The Xcerts Myspace
 Review Score Code
- Top Cheese
- Brilliant
- Pretty damn good
- Ok I guess
- What Was That?