Photo of Manchester Orchestra by Henri Isaac
Fall touring season is here, and it could be felt in the brisk Portland air, on September 18th, as excited fans waited in line to see Manchester Orchestra, Tigers Jaw and Foxing play the Crystal Ballroom.
As a disabled concert attendee, it’s often hard to find a safe place with a decent view of the stage at shows, but thanks to a kind stranger who helped me when I said that I shouldn’t be in the front row, we convinced security to allow me to be between the all-ages and 21+ barricades with a perfect view of the stage. I truly am so grateful because this show ended up being incredibly influential for me, and I wouldn’t have been able to fully experience it if I was unsafe or stuck in the back of the room.
Speaking of the room, the show floor was set up differently than the Crystal’s traditional half all-ages, half 21+ split. Instead, 3/4 of the room was 21+, and the rest was a small all-ages area, and it seemed to work well for the older crowd.
Foxing began the night with a captivating set that passed by too quickly. While most of the crowd was just becoming familiar with the band, I was fortunate enough to have seen them headline last year, and it’s safe to say that they outdid themselves with this performance. Conor Murphy’s voice filled the massive ballroom with ease. He spent as much time off the stage as he did on it; running across the floor between the barricades, and laying on the floor between them—all while putting on an impeccable vocal performance. The crowd went wild for his trumpet solos in a couple of the songs they played. Foxing has been working on a new album for a couple years now and played a new song from it which gives both new and old fans something to look forward to hearing down the road. Seeing Foxing live is one of those times when you don’t have to know every word being sung, or really know anything about the band to be able to love what they do on stage every time you see them.
Tigers Jaw has been on the move since they released their new album Spin back in May. Their last time playing Portland was in early June—coincidentally with Conor Murphy’s other band, Smidley—which made me realize just how quickly the summer passed. “June” also happens to be a single from Spin which has become the most popular song on the album. It’s a great showcase of Brianna Collins’ vocals, especially when the band played it in a room as grandiose as the Crystal Ballroom. Whether it was intentional or not, it seemed that Tigers Jaw used this tour as a chance to play some of their more mellow tracks as opposed to when they headline and fans eagerly mosh and circle pit. There were sweet singalongs to songs like “Chemicals,” as everyone soaked in the emotions behind the band’s lyrical content. Tigers Jaw’s set was a great transition into Manchester Orchestra taking the stage.
When Manchester Orchestra’s backdrop became visible, the room’s excitement exploded. Time seemed to speed up during soundcheck as the performance that I had been looking forward to for so long was finally about to happen. When the band stepped on stage and began playing “The Maze,” nothing else mattered. It felt like a movie; though people clapped and cheered during the opening instrumentals, all of those sounds faded to the background until my entire attention was on every note being played. My grin was inevitable, especially during my favorite song, “The Gold,” which sounded as big as I imagined it would.
The lights during Manchester Orchestra’s set were timed beautifully with their massive crescendos. From overlapping lyrics being sung, to piano parts which fans may not have listened closely enough to hear, seeing each layer of songs from their new album, A Black Mile To The Surface, come to life allowed for fans to dive even deeper into a record that seems to have more to discover with every listen. Ben Walsh of Tigers Jaw played some auxiliary percussion for MO on some songs when the core of the band was preoccupied with their respective instruments. It was a nice touch to the soundscape they created.
They put a lot of energy into their stage performance in songs like “Shake It Out,” yet every moment appears so carefully crafted by each member. It was the most intimate performance I’ve seen in the 1500 cap. room. The crowd was very attentive, and it would sometimes get quieter between songs than would typically happen at most shows this size. It made the things that were shouted at the band very easy to understand, so when MO gave a shout out to Tigers Jaw and Foxing for opening, a distant chant of “Ti-gers Jaw, Ti-gers Jaw” reached Andy Hull’s ears. At first he responded with, “What was that? Oh, nevermind,” but then he realized what it was and said, “Oh! A Tigers Jaw chant! I support that!” and started it up again. He eventually turned it into “Ti-gers Jaw and Foxing” which gave it an inclusive rhythmic snap to the end of it. Other times people would yell, “Drum solo!,” “Play ‘Free Bird!’” or whatever else the alcohol in their bloodstream presumably inspired them to shout. Those moments made the room feel a whole lot smaller as Hull responded fittingly with dad-level jokes which Andy Prince approved or disapproved of with a bass line.
Everyone continued to closely connect during choral-sized singalongs. Hearing songs from Mean Everything To Nothing was really important in allowing me to fully appreciate Manchester Orchestra’s discography beyond their latest release which is what attracted me to the band in the first place. A Black Mile To The Surface is one of the best albums I’ve heard this year, and “The Silence” is not only a great album closer, but was a monumental way to close out the night which was filled with one poignant band after the next.
A lot of the most influential shows I’ve seen have taken place in this very same venue, and now, Manchester Orchestra can be added to that mental list of unforgettable sets.
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