Photo courtesy Manchester Orchestra/Facebook
Manchester Orchestra are no strangers to Orlando stages. The Atlanta band have been playing regularly in successively bigger venues since the very start of their career in the early 2000s. So it seems appropriate that the band returns to live shows with a Wednesday set at the Frontyard Festival
in downtown Orlando. The band will be stripped down to the duo lineup of Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, playing bare-bones versions of old favorites and an exclusive airing of material from newly released LP The Million Masks of God
, a widescreen meditation on loss and transcendence. Manchester frontman Hull talked to Orlando Weekly
ahead of his return to a familiar city for a one-night only performance.
So this is the comeback show?
It is! We played one last year in Connecticut, on a farm. But yeah, this is our our first show in 2021.
It's intriguing to think about hearing these lush and orchestrated songs from Million Masks stripped down to the bone.
We might just go ahead and play the whole album … We'll definitely play a lot of it.
Is this a show where you'll keep things a little loose?
It is a more loose feeling in that it's not, you know, the light show and destroying you with sound, and heavy guitars and shit. But these things are fun and I found that with the social distancing thing the rock concert is awkward with everyone so spread out but something like this, it's a little bit more quiet and focused. It seems to work well.
These shows do seem to spur a more intimate interplay between the audience and the performer.
I think that makes sense. I always love these kinds of performances. It's your job to maintain everyone's attention as best you can and it's a little bit of a do-or-die where you don't have a band to hide behind if there's mistakes. I like that kind of pressure.
You did a cover of Neil Young's "Unknown Legend" for Sirius, do you have any covers planned?
We're probably going to stick to originals, we're not really a cover band in our career, we haven't really done that. But yeah, I've always loved that song so it was really fun to do, so we might bust that baby out, who knows?
Releasing an album during a pandemic, was it a case of even the most mundane tasks and aspects of that taking on a little added poignancy?
It's a record that's dealing with a lot of dark themes but ultimately has a positive message, and I felt fortunate that this was the piece of art that we're going to put into the world. That felt fitting, and I was grateful that it felt like this. It's been an odd experience working an album from home. We're used to flying to places and doing press, and there's been some benefits to it because you're able to reach a whole lot more radio stations, and performances for people through Zoom and through our studio.
But it's also been tough because there really hasn't been a lot of time to process it all, and I'm a father of two and the rest of the guys in the band are dads and so you know, kind of like, "Go put on your rock star hat for the day," and then come home and you that's that. There've been positives and negatives to it but it's all … I think you'd probably hear any artist that's being honest tell you that over the last year-and-a-half we've realized how much we all took it for granted that this was our job. And being able to release something that we're really proud of, finally, just feels really good.
The themes of the album are very much in sync with the times. I'm not saying this is our COVID album, but there is a confluence.
Yeah, I think you're right. You know, I don't think we're ever going to make a COVID album. It's … but I know what you mean, it felt like it oddly lined up.
You played another notable Orlando spot years ago in Park Ave CDs. Do you have any memories of that particular show?
Man, I have so many memories of Park Ave, an incredible record store that helped us out from the time I was a baby. It was the first store outside of our own hometown record shop that carried our album, always super supportive of us. And in 2009, I think, we went in and did a really cool — now pressed up and on digital streaming — an acoustic show there and I've got nothing but love for those people.
Do people ever bring that CD for you to sign?
It's kind of a rarity. It's cool that when we released the 10-year anniversary edition of our second record, we were able to put that up for digital streaming DSP so it became a little bit more available for a while. It was a bit of a white whale for our fans to try and chase down.
It's tempting to draw through-lines between these two Orlando shows: intimate venues, acoustic sets …
I don't think you're stretching there. I mean, I can go on … The Social used to be our stomping grounds, we would do these really great two nights in a row there. There are cities in your life, and venues, if you've been doing it as long as we've been doing it, that as you slowly take these steps up, the people still support you there. Orlando has always been that kind of spot for us.
So it is really nice that we're not just playing a city that doesn't hold a ton of weight, for us. Not that Connecticut didn't, but a farm in Connecticut … we don't really have a lot of history on farms in Connecticut. One of the first Manchester shows ever was opening for Third Eye Blind there in 2005, so we do have a lot of through lines through the city.
Manchester Orchestra play the Frontyard Festival on Wednesday, May 12 at 7:30 p.m. A few tickets are still available through the Dr. Phillips Center.
Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly newsletters, and consider supporting this free publication. Our small but mighty team is working tirelessly to bring you Central Florida news, and every little bit helps.