Where: Hollywood Forever, California
Atlanta-based alternative outfit Manchester Orchestra is on the road to promote their new album A Black Mile to the Surface. We were lucky enough to get entry to an acoustic evening with the band at the Hollywood Forever cemetery. In a spacious lodge on the grounds of the site the crowd are ushered into a pew-like arrangement facing the pulpit. Stripped down from the usual 4-member arrangement tonight the band is comprised of vocalist / rhythm guitarist Andy Hull and lead guitarist Robert McDowell. This is no funeral, yet Andy admits that the new album definitely contains their saddest material to date.
Opening with ‘Top Notch’ from their previous album Cope the guys start what can essentially be considered a set packed to the rafters with greatest hits from their entire discography. With the occasional addition of material from the new album it is evident that these new songs feel right at home even when they’re suitably stripped down. They admit that they’re still getting to grips with the new album but that doesn’t faze the crowd, as the opening riff to new single ‘The Gold’ slides into motion applause drowns out McDowell’s guitar work. It’s a strange moment that cuts through the quiet of the evening. Even though a concert the blend of sacred surroundings and muted performance has the audience sat in pure devotion to the bands offerings. There’s no singing along or screamed requests tonight but that doesn’t mean you wont see die hard fans mouthing along to every word of every song.
At one point Andy acknowledges the stunned silence of the spectators by asking for an icebreaker, the one response we get is that they play “The Penguin”, a track that doesn’t exist until it’s realized that they meant ‘The Alien’. Another new track and arguably the most heart wrenching of the set. A fingerpicked tale of decisive woe and its impending fallout; Yet for tonight it’s known only as ‘The Penguin’ as the pair on stage attempt to hold back their smiles.
The set draws to a close with a blended rendition of ‘Colly Strings’ from their debut album and ‘The River’. The swirling mass of melancholy that’s formed by this gargantuan track is enough to remind oneself that we’re sat in proximity to a graveyard that houses some of the most talented artists of recent years, Chris Cornell and Johnny Ramone to name a few. Making my way outside to the balmy twilight of downtown Hollywood the acoustic clarity of Hulls voice has left a mark.