Manchester Orchestra Live at Red Rocks 2023
Despite not being a religious person, the best way to describe Manchester Orchestra at Red Rocks is as a religious experience.
This past week, I flew across the country to fulfill a nearly lifelong dream to see a concert at Red Rocks in a small town outside of Denver, Colorado. One of my favorite bands of all time, Manchester Orchestra, played there as part of “The Amplified Echos” tour with Jimmy Eat World and opener Middle Kids. I love Jimmy Eat World too, but I’m only going to talk about Manchester Orchestra today. That’s not a shot at Jimmy Eat World. I’ve seen them a bunch over the years too, but I’ve always connected that much more with Manchester Orchestra’s music. I traveled for Manchester Orchestra. So, why was it a dream to go to a concert at Red Rocks? I presume most of you reading know about Red Rocks, but let me talk about it a bit anyway.
I’m not the biggest Dave Matthews band fan in the world. I think the band is great, and I loved their first few records, but I fell off, and let’s be honest. The biggest DMB fan in the world? The competition is stiff. But back in the 90s, I was a fan, and I especially loved their live album from Red Rocks, which was released in 1997 when I was a high school senior. It was a show from 1995, and a veritable greatest-hits record up to that point. The album also commemorates the band’s third consecutive year playing Red Rocks - only the second as the main attraction. That album is how I became aware of Red Rocks as a concert venue, and from that point on, I always wanted to visit there.
Over the years, I’ve heard about legendary shows that have taken place there, from Pearl Jam back in 1995 to U2’s legendary live record “Under a Blood Red Sky.” That album was released in 1983 when I was four years old. My U2 vintage is more Achtung Baby, so I didn’t really know about it until much later. But suffice it to say you can’t be a big music fan without at least knowing something about Red Rocks.
The Wikipedia version is that it’s an open-air theater built into the side of a mountain. This mountain is a very bright shade of red. Duh. The venue holds nearly 10,000 people, and due to the steep nature of the stands, there’s nary a bad view in the entire place. The venue was opened to the public in 1941. The Beatles performed there in August 1964. Jimmy Hendrix played there in 1968. The place has a special history, but I’m telling you, reading about it doesn’t do it justice.
I’m often skeptical of “special” places because I don’t really believe in mysticism or magic. However, if there’s a remarkable place, and everyone feels that simultaneously, maybe I actually do believe in it? I guess what I’m saying is that I don’t believe there’s fairy dust that fuels that place, but damn it, if it didn’t feel like it to me and everyone else who was there, including the bands on stage. Just look at this picture from Manchester Orchestra’s social media pages.
I have seen Manchester Orchestra many times over the years. I’ve seen them being silly. I’ve seen them at their most earnest. I’ve seen them frustrated with an over-served Cleveland audience at the Beachland. I’ve seen this band enough times to get a sense of the energy they have on a given night. I’ve never seen the band so inspired yet awe-struck as I did at Red Rocks. When the band wasn’t putting their all into the performance, Andy Hull appeared to be stealing moments with guitarist Robert McDowell, bassist Andy Prince, and drummer Tim Very to give them looks and nods that said, “Can you believe this?!”
The audience too, seemed especially willing to sing and scream back every word to the band. They opened with rocker “Pride.” It’s not an uncommon opener for the band, and it sure does set a tone. When they rock out “Shake it Out” or “The Gold,” it’s the same thing, but that’s not the magic for Manchester Orchestra these days.
I noticed it on the last tour supporting their record, The Million Masks of God. They played Dinosaur live, but it includes an extra verse and a rock-out section at the end. The album version is great, but the chorus is almost an anti-chorus where it brings things down. The album version leaves you wanting more, and the live version delivers on that in spades. This past week was the first time I saw the band since they released their EP, The Valley of Vision. The live version of The Way takes a great studio song and makes it even better. It rocks more. The dynamics are more powerful. I don’t know if it was even more powerful because the band played at Red Rocks, but it seems probable.
For me, this concert instantly vaults into the top ten of concerts I’ve ever seen. The feeling of climbing the steps through the cavernous rocks to get my first views of the venue. Watching as the nearly 10,000 people filled the sold-out stands was the trip of a lifetime. Seeing how the bands stood in front of the crowd with appreciation and reverence was the thrill of a lifetime.
Manchester Orchestra is a band that’s nearly 20 years old now, about 15 years since they really broke out, and about ten years with this solidified lineup, including Tim Very and Andy Prince. It doesn’t even make sense that they’re still getting better and producing the most vital material in their career. The band’s leader, Andy Hull, was in his early 20s when this band first entered the mainstream rock consciousness, and now as he enters his latter 30s, there’s no sign of stopping.
Manchester Orchestra at Red Rocks was an all-timer. The band at the peak of its powers in an iconic venue for the first time in front of a sold-out show… It’s hard to contextualize it, but it had me choked up throughout the night as I felt all the power of the music and the emotional response from the crowd as the two sounds crashed into each other over and over throughout the night.
The way Andy Hull walked to the front of the stage by himself for one last look at the crowd before exiting was everything. Yes, the music was incredible, and Hull’s voice has never sounded bigger and more confident, but after the amplifiers were quiet and all that was left was the man, himself, standing in front of 10,000 appreciative fans, it was a moment. It’s a moment that I’ll never forget. I’m guessing that Andy Hull and his bandmates in Manchester Orchestra will never forget it either.