The Atlanta rock band Manchester Orchestra has done what few alt-rock acts have been able to in the past decade: Have a hit with some serious legs.
Since it was released in the summer of 2017, the slow-burning rock song “The Gold,” with its soaring harmonies, has remained a staple of alt-rock radio playlists. The band was surprised at its success.
“In the past, we’ve had songs that have performed well in radio, but that’s never been something that we rely on. It’s always been a bonus,” guitarist Robert McDowell says.
The band will return to Kansas City, Missouri, on a co-headlining tour with the folk-punk band The Front Bottoms and opener Brother Bird at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 2, at The Uptown Theater.
Coming up in a scene with other indie rock acts like Kevin Devine and Straylight Run that relied on word of mouth rather than media support, Manchester Orchestra followed suit. It aimed at making albums that followed a narrative and flow, not a collection of songs that would individually blow up on streaming and broadcast services.
“We’re just grateful that the stations were willing to play it and we’ll do whatever we can to get it in front of as many people as possible,” McDowell says.
In putting together its latest tour, the band says the fun challenge is building a set that will satisfy long-time fans as well as newcomers who started with “The Gold.”
“It’s tough because there’s songs that we love playing from older records and we want the fans to hear, but we we’re also trying to promote this new record. It’s a lot of cutting, adding and making sacrifices,” McDowell says.
To prep for the tour, the band pulled old live recorded sets to see how many songs it could fit into one set, as it’s splitting time with The Front Bottoms.
“On our (first tour), we had a 30-minute set and we were struggling to fill that. Now, I think with each record we have it will get more and more difficult until maybe we’ll hit My Morning Jacket status, where we can play for three-and-a-half hours,” McDowell says, laughing.
While the band has defining elements, like Andy Hull’s soulful tenor, its albums explore sounds from aggressive pop-rock (2014’s “Cope), soaring, angry alt-rock (2009’s “Mean Everything to Nothing”) and subdued, contemplative work like “A Black Mile.”
With a shift in band members and its sound, McDowell says it’s natural for some older tracks to take on new qualities.
“None of it’s really intentional. It comes ... as you grow and evolve as a band,” McDowell says. “Teenage us wrote and recorded these songs as they were. Now, 30-year-old us, we might interpret them different. They just kind of grow and evolve.”
Touring with The Front Bottoms, a band with a looser sound and more sarcastic perspective on life, McDowell says the two complement each other well.
“It’s really like a yin and a yang of two bands who exist in their success because of their fanbase, rather than a radio push or a marketing push,” he says. “It’s a chance for our fans to see them, their fans to see us and hopefully, everybody just has a great time.”
— Andrew Gaug | St. Joe Live