By Brent Michael, Rock At Night Tampa Senior Correspondent
Venue: Jannus Live, St. Petersburg, Florida–October 10th, 2021
Manchester Orchestra doesn’t want you to know who their drummer is. Okay, there’s nothing official saying that, but look at the evidence: His name isn’t their website or Facebook page, he’s wearing a hat and beard disguise, and he’s the only band member who was backlit the entire show!
Or maybe I’ve just heard far too many conspiracy claims in the past 5 or so years!
Anyway, I had the pleasure of seeing them and two other bands in St. Petersburg last night, and all three rocked the walls of the open-air but still too crowded Jannus Live venue. Despite signs all over the place reminding people to practice social distancing. there were few masks and too many people bunched together. Stay safe people, so we can keep having concerts!
The show kicked off with Slothrust, a trio based in Boston, MA. The band is about to release their fifth album, Parallel Timeline, and every album needs publicity, so what did they do? Remember the dress controversy that went viral? What color is Leah Wellbaum’s dress? Yellow and blue, or orange and green? Very clever!
Of course, that’s not the only clever thing they’ve done. Did you wonder, as I did, if their name was “”SLO-THRUST” or SLOTH-RUST?” Wonder no more, the pronunciation guide of their Facebook page says “SLOTH-RUST” is correct. Now that we’ve settled that, on to more clever things they’ve done, like their music!
On their latest album, bandleader Leah Wellbaum “explores the feeling of being trapped inside her own consciousness while simultaneously searching for a meaningful connection to the universe, and all the mysteries it contains.” To prepare for this venture, Wellbaum sought to dramatically expand the band’s sonic palette. Slothrust put an emphasis on incorporating new production techniques and processes into the band’s established sound, resulting in an extraordinary amount of experimental demo recordings, many elements of which appear on the final record and were heard at Jannus. They leaned into risk-taking — a freedom that comes with having been in a band together for more than 10 years, cultivating new sonic realms for each track. The band contains ducated musicians all with backgrounds in classical, jazz and blues, Slothrust leans into improvisation — something that in the past has lent itself to the infectious energy of their live shows. Parallel Timeline, has a distinct yet unified sound that blends progressive rock, acoustic, and pop, as did their live performance.
Next up was Foxing, a trio hailing from St. Louis, MO. Conor Murphy on vocals, guitar, trumpet, sampler; Jon Hellwig handles drums and sampler, and Eric Hudson does guitar and vocals, with the addition of Brett Torrence adding bass, synthesizer, and sample for this tour. In the beginning of August, 2021, they released Draw Down the Moon, their fourth studio album. They’ve also done an EP and two splits since their inception in 2011. Although the band’s been through a few lineup changes, Jon was there from the start and Conor joined before the band settled on the name.
Fans and soon-to-be-fans were treated to a high=energy set with Conor’s vocals and stage antics leading the band’s frenzied pace. The only criticism I would make is: Please get a more readable logo!
Before they took the stage, I was trying to get their name for my notes. I was speaking with another attendee, and we came up with “Foxiir, Foxeer, Foxirr,” and a couple of others I don’t remember, but not “Foxing.” Don’t get me wrong, the logo looks very cool, but isn’t the point getting the name out? It’s a great band, I’m just trying to help!
Back to Manchester Orchestra.
During the first song, the lights were nearly nonexistent – which I know isn’t usually a problem, unless you’re a photographer trying to take photos that are more than silhouettes and don’t have blown-out backgrounds! But the crowd didn’t care, they were cheering them on regardless. Manchester Orchestra is an indie rock band from Atlanta formed in 2004. The group is composed of rhythm guitarist-singer-songwriter (and sole original member) Andy Hull, lead guitarist Robert McDowell, bassist Andy Prince and secret drummer Tim Very. The band’s lineup has been stable since 2016. Brooks Tipton joins them on tour, playing piano and keyboards.
Manchester Orchestra has released several extended plays and six studio albums: I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child (2006), Mean Everything to Nothing (2009), Simple Math (2011), Cope (2014) (as well as its accompanying acoustic version, Hope), A Black Mile to the Surface (2017) and The Million Masks of God (2021). They are signed to independent record label Favorite Gentlemen Recordings, which is distributed through Sony Music Entertainment, and Loma Vista Recordings.
The band has performed at major music festivals such as Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Coachella, Riot Fest, Shaky Knees Music Festival, Firefly Music Festival, Reading and Leeds Festivals, Austin City Limits Music Festival, and more. They are currently touring the USA and Canada through March of 2022, with a break in December and January. They have been forced to change venues in several cities in order to accommodate the larger audiences that want to see them!
One item of special interest to me: Andy Hull and Robert McDowell wrote and performed the soundtrack for Swiss Army Man, a 2016 film starring Daniel Radcliffe and Paul Dano which I was one of the few to actually see. It wasn’t a bad movie, but it wasn’t marketed well and was definitely not aimed at Radcliffe’s Harry Potter fans. At Sundance, some audience members walked out, alienated by the film’s bizarre premise. The movie was much better received by film critics; Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 72% approval rating The soundtrack was nominated for “Best Original Score for a Comedy Film” and “Film Music Composition of the Year” in the 2016 International Film Music Critics Association Awards.The soundtrack is composed solely of vocals, with as many as 150 vocal tracks layered on top of one another. Radcliffe, in Entertainment Weekly, offered high praise for the soundtrack:
Do you know what I honestly think should be nominated [for an Academy Award? The soundtrack and the songwriting from the band – Andy and Rob from the band Manchester Orchestra. Obviously, I’m totally biased but I really think that when people hear the ‘Montage’ song that we sing in the movie – I don’t feel that there’s going to be a better original song all year than the one those guys wrote.
Give them a listen, find them on tour, you won’t be disappointed!