Manchester Orchestra: The Social, Orlando, FL 1/28/07

On a cold Orlando Monday night, long-banged and tight-jeaned youths packed into The Social to see three lively and distinct bands. After Atlanta rockers All Get Out opened the evening with an intense but uneven set, John Ralston wowed the crowd with his unique blend of grunge, folk and violin.  Ralston’s performance was highly improvised, as he took requests from the crowd and obliged them in order of proximity, joking that he was only playing the songs that he could remember.  Ralston’s laid-back and experimental set paved the way for Manchester Orchestra’s similarly intimate performance.

Manchester Orchestra regularly toed the line between high-octane rock and slow crooning. Front-man Andy Hull performed two songs by himself, quietly strumming his guitar and stepping away from the microphone, letting only his natural voice carry the lyrics. At other times, the band pounded the stage with a musical fury; it is this dichotomy that underscores the band’s problem.

Their rock songs, like the head-banger “Now That You’re Home,” were delivered with an intensity and raw energy that is infectious and impossible to ignore. Though the rawness of their performances sometimes came off as garage-rock, such a thing can be expected from such a young band. In contrast, their slow, quiet songs, though emotional and undoubtedly therapeutic, were rather dull and tended to drag. It is a sign of a band of enormous potential as rockers but with a penchant for clichéd, overly sentimental balladry.

The encore “Where Have You Been” was as passionate and inspired as it was overly dramatic, especially with members of All Get Out joining them onstage to sing along and cry. It was another example of “potential overshadowed by bombast.” Though the performance did have its highlights, such as an explosive performance of “Wolves at Night,” Manchester Orchestra’s propensity for melodrama showed they have room to grow.

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