An Horse, O'Brother
The Mod Club in Toronto, ON
May 16, 2011
Review by: Pete Nema
Photos by: Julie Lavelle
With their latest album, Simple Math, being released only six days prior, Manchester Orchestra returned to Toronto to promote their new music, as well as reinforce the quality of the songs from previous albums.
Stepping into a sold-out crowd at The Mod Club, I thought I arrived as a pretty big fan of Manchester Orchestra, but over the course of the night, the crowd proved that I was at least 300th or so in line. Opening the show with a mostly a cappella rendition of "Oh Canada", Manchester Orchestra had the audience singing along with them from practically the first word of the set, something that didn't stop throughout the night.
Opening the proper set with "Virgin", one of the better songs from Simple Math, the band immediately displayed that their music translates to the stage with bolder and firmer guitar riffs, bigger beats, and an all around more powerful delivery. Wearing a Frank Zappa band t-shirt, Andy Hull (vocals, guitar) led the crowd through a massive sing-along to the mellow interlude that separates the harsher beginning and ending of "Shake It Out". Pretty impressive considering we were only a couple of songs in at this point.
The crowd near stage right was quickly working itself up into a frenzy and by the fifth song the area had turned into a mosh pit. The moshing continued along until Hull felt he could no longer let it go unmentioned. He moved forward mid-song, leaned toward the crowd and asked them to calm down. He moved back to the mic, but his request was ineffective, and so at the end of the song he rolled into an impromptu verse dedicated directly to the moshers that included the lyrics "quit fucking moshing, you're ruining it for them... we're not the hardcore band you're looking for..." It was pretty hilarious, and although the crowd kept up their enthusiasm, the serenade was effective at reducing the level to a crowd-friendly raucous.
A few technical issues on stage occurred through which the band rolled smoothly, in many cases probably going unnoticed by most of the crowd. Either way, clearly things were going well enough for band members Hull and Robert McDowell (guitar) to take a little time out for a hug. The title track from their new album Simple Math finally showed up in the set list, but in a slightly different form, adapted for the stage. Some of the subtlety was exchanged for a fuller sound, and the tempo was increased slightly. It sounded fairly spectacular through The Mod Club's sound system.
No matter which song came next, the fans seemed to know all the lyrics, and Hull, recognizing the situation, would often step away from his mic and forward to the edge of the stage to sing along with the very vocal audience. As they prepared for the final song of the set, "Where Have You Been?" from their 2006 album I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child, Hull requested that all stage lights be turned off completely and that the room be lit by just the disco ball, and the space above the crowd be filled with a flurry of bubbles from The Mod Club's bubble machines (a feature of the venue that Hull correctly described as "weird").
Manchester Orchestra proved that they have the songwriting talent to make great songs and the stage presence required to translate their recorded songs into concert-ready compositions that give the crowd that extra edge that is often the mark of a great concert.
An Horse is a two-piece from Brisbane, Australia, and as such, their songs rely heavily on the skill of drummer Damon Cox. On vocals and guitar is Kate Cooper who adeptly plays her chords and sings the lyrics, but for someone like me who is largely unfamiliar with their music, many of the songs seemed to follow similar tonal patterns. That wasn't the case, though, for the closing song "Shoes Watch" that was based on interesting musical breaks and vocal harmonies.
Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the venue in time for O'Brother.