Photo by MATT SHAVER
Sitting in the lobby bar of the Fillmore, we can hear the first strains of Manchester Orchestra seeping through the showroom doors. “All of their songs are so slow,” Hannah is complaining. I don’t feel like arguing with her, so I just nod. Last year’s A Black Mile to the Surface feels cinematic and elaborately arranged, without being overbearing. It doesn’t feel like they’re trying to prove anything, scaling back after the noisy overproduction of their last projects.
Singer-guitarist Andy Hull’s songwriting is his strongest attribute, his lyrics arresting in their vivid intensity. “I Know How To Speak” might be his most emotive endeavor yet, and my stomach drops every time his voice rises to impossible heights, wavering over the chorus. Speedier tracks like “The Sunshine” and “The Gold” make room for grungier instrumentals without losing the intimate, human touch that marks this album. Last night, they dusted off a couple of classics like “Shake it Out” and “Simple Math,” but the most powerful moment of the set was when Hull covered “My Backwards Walk” by Frightened Rabbit, whose lead singer Scott Hutchison passed away in May. The song is disarming, begging to reverse time, to save a relationship just before it turns to shit.
The mood veered dramatically when The Front Bottoms took over. If nothing else, they know how to have fun. There was a bar set up onstage, friends hanging out on wooden stools with their backs to the audience. Brian Sella cracked open a can of beer, and the room visibly relaxed. Twenty-somethings crowd-surfed and threw random objects at the stage. “Thanks for the titties,” Sella laughed, picking up a skin-colored silicone bra. “Here’s a love song for you,” he said, laughing into “Peach.”
There’s something about Sella’s lyrics that make them easy to memorize, long run-on narratives pouring out in a single exhale. The band broke out crowd favorites like “Maps,” “Twin Mattress” and “Flashlight,” songs that conjure scenes of teenagers partying in the suburbs, giving each other stick-and-poke tattoos and making out in pickup trucks— or whatever it is suburban kids do. “This is a song about doing acid with your grandma,” Sella said to introduce the loopy dreamscape of “Tie Dye Dragon” off the new EP Ann. I was hoping the two bands would share the stage to perform their collab song “Allentown,” and what better place than Philly? The track blends their contrasting styles, the two singers somberly trading lines— “I used to be a lawyer, now I just talk a lot / I’m the King of Allentown, this parking lot / I am on a journey to discover what it’s like / to be free of all my demons.” Tragically, it was not to be. — MARIAH HALL