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The Manchester Orchestra talks about their comeback show, The Orlando Connection, ahead of the Frontyard Festival on Wednesday

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  • Photo courtesy Manchester Orchestra / Facebook

The Manchester Orchestra is no stranger to the Orlando stages. The Atlanta band has been playing regularly in larger and larger venues since their careers began in the early 2000s. Hence, it seems appropriate that the band return to live shows with a Wednesday set at the Frontyard Festival in downtown Orlando. The band is reduced to the duo lineup of Andy Hull and Robert McDowell, playing barebone versions of old favorites and broadcasting exclusive material from the newly released LP The Million Masks of God, a widescreen meditation on loss and transcendence. Manchester front man Hull spoke to Orlando Weekly before returning to a familiar city to perform for just one night.

So this is the comeback show?
It is! We played on a farm in Connecticut last year. But yeah, this is our first show in 2021.

It’s fascinating to think about hearing these lush and orchestrated songs from Million Masks that are reduced to the bone.
We could just go ahead and play the whole album … we’re definitely going to play a lot of it.

Is this a show where you’re going to keep things a little casual?
It’s a looser feeling that it’s not the lightshow that destroys and destroys you with sound and heavy guitars and shit. But these things are fun and I found the rock concert with the social distancing to be awkward when everyone is so prevalent but something like that makes it a little bit calmer and more focused. It seems to work.

These shows seem to encourage closer interaction between audience and performers.
I think that makes sense. I always love gigs like that. It’s your job to keep everyone’s attention as best you can, and it’s a bit of a do-or-die where you don’t have a band to hide behind when there are 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’ll probably stick to the originals, we’re not really a cover band in our career, we really haven’t. But yeah, I’ve always loved this song so it was really fun doing it so we could kick the baby out who knows?

Was it a case that even the most mundane tasks and aspects of putting an album out during a pandemic took on a little more pungency?
It’s a record that deals with a lot of dark themes but ultimately has a positive message and I was fortunate that this was the work of art we are going to put into the world. It felt appropriate and I was grateful that it felt that way. It was a strange experience editing an album from home. We’re used to flying to places and doing press, and it has some advantages because you can get a lot more radio stations and gigs for people through Zoom and our studio.

But it was also difficult because there really wasn’t much time to process it all and I’m a father of two and the rest of the guys in the band are fathers. Put your rock star hat on for the day and then come home and you, that’s it. There were positives and negatives, but it’s all … I think you would probably hear any artist who is honest and She says that over the past year and a half we’ve realized how much we all took it for granted that this was our job, and being able to post something we’re really proud of just feels really good.

The themes of the album are very contemporary. I’m not saying this is our COVID album, but there is a confluence.
Yes i think you are right You know, I don’t think we’ll ever do a COVID album. It’s … but I know what you mean, it felt strange.

You played another notable Orlando spot on Park Ave. CDs years ago. Do you have any memories of that particular show?
Man, I have so many memories of Park Ave., an amazing record store that has been helping us since we were little. It was the first story outside of our own record store in our hometown that carried our album and always gave us great support. And in 2009 I think we did a really cool – now pressurized and digitally streaming – acoustic show there and I have nothing but love for these people.

Do people ever bring this CD for you to sign?
It’s kind of a rarity. It’s cool that when we released the 10th anniversary edition of our second record, we were able to put it up for digital streaming DSP so it got a little more available for a while. For our fans, it was a bit like a white whale trying to hunt it down.

It’s tempting to draw lines between these two Orlando shows: intimate venues, acoustic sets …
I don’t think you’re expanding there. I mean, I can go on … The Social used to be our turf, we did these really great two nights in a row there. There are cities in your life and venues, if you have been doing it for as long as we have, if you take these steps slowly, people will still support you there. Orlando has always been such a place for us.

It’s really nice that we’re not just playing a city for ourselves that doesn’t carry a lot of weight. 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 shows in Manchester opened for Third Eye Blind in 2005. So we have a lot of thoroughfare through the city.

The Manchester Orchestra will play the Frontyard Festival on Wednesday May 12th at 7:30 pm. Some tickets are still available through the Dr. Phillips Center available.

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Janet Smith