A Million Glowing Masks

by | Oct 22, 2021 | MUSIC

Touring behind their latest album, The Million Masks Of God, Manchester Orchestra came to The National, along with Foxing and Slothrust, to present a transcendent musical experience. George Wethington was there to absorb it all.

“Are you peaking George?” he asked quietly. “Yeah, fucking big time,” I answered the voice next to me. Their claymationed face was morphing and hard to look at directly. The quarter of mushrooms I had eaten made me realize that my friend was a mischievous child, fresh off the discovery of a hilarious joke and a new word for boobies. I loved him and couldn’t wait until recess for him to tell me. 

“Can I put on a song?” the voice asked me, with the hushed intention of an 18-year-old that is going to blow his friend’s mind. I nodded in pensive agreement. “This song is called ‘I Can Feel a Hot One’ from Manchester Orchestra,” he said. “Isn’t that like an indie band?” I asked, watching the words shoot out of my mouth like fireworks.

He shushed me. This was hallowed minivan upholstery. He shifted the bangs beneath his beanie and put a finger to his lips. Out of the speakers a whimpering, sharp voice cut through the dark tapestry of shared reality and cast forth the light of truth. I heard the line, “I remember head down, after you had found out, manna is a hell of a drug. And I need a little more I think, because enough is never quite enough, what’s enough?” I had a feeling I was close to the answer.

Manchester Orchestra at The National. Photo by Michael Phillips Photography.

When I got the email from the team behind Manchester Orchestra to cover their show at The National on Oct 13 with Foxing and Slothrust, promoting their new album, The Million Masks of God, I was thankful and proud. It felt surreal. 

The Million Masks of God is a champion effort. It is the seminal achievement of a band that has transcended genre and emerged as a popular influence. It has the spacey and elliptical pull of the production behind The Flaming Lips or Muse. There is the anthemic cry and splashy electronic resolutions of modernity sprinkled throughout, in between the heavy layering of Andy Hull’s vocals and the parts of the record that are either reassuringly familiar or excitingly new.

Hull’s voice is thick, heady, and piercing, like a fountain pen. With it, he delivers his legacy-building lyrics with the painful awareness of a man that knows that his heart is beating him to death, and the enlightenment of someone who found the rhythm and made a melody. Following the passing of a loved one within their band’s family circle, they were faced with the question, “What do you do, knowing that there is an expiration date to all of this?” 

You make art, and explore the impartial and eternal cycle of life, and hug your friends. The danceable nature of the songs feels more like a fold than a betrayal of the somber lyrical matter. This album had me legitimately excited to see it live. If the speakers were already burning down the house at home, would none be spared in the ashes of The National? I recalled the destructive and fiery dance of Shiva, and knew that no matter how hot the fire, in the ashes there would be renewal. 

Slothrust at The National. Photo by Michael Phillips Photography.

I didn’t go outside much the day of the show. Noon was hot and humid, and I cursed warm weather in October as I cast an irritable glance over my shoulder towards the sun. Only bozos like American presidents look directly at the sun. The day cooled to make a palatable fall afternoon. I stopped by Saison Market with my partner to grab some wine and lattes before walking over to The National. 

The Ercole red wine we drank stopped time for a bit, but just for us. Suspended there, we were in a tart and comfy cloud of ripened cherry and luscious raspberry jam. We were late to the venue.

Upon our arrival, Slothrust was betraying their name with a hard-and-fast delivery of a song that had a ton of 80’s fuck-off punk attitude. Slothrust would do quite well to headline the smaller venues of Richmond occasionally. Their alternative sound had the typical signatures of the genre; with quiet contractions of melodic and jangly guitars welded together by fat, heavy riffs. The vocalist has a dreamy voice that can get raw fast. I noticed a lot of the scathingly self-aware grit of grunge. They stoked the embers of the evening and made us a hearty fire. 

Up next was Foxing. If you asked the guy in front of me, who drove three hours to see the show, they kind of sounded like Radiohead. I agreed, in the sense that they had melodic soundscapes that were definitively progressive, but still entirely accessible. There was the rocky and easy sound of The Growlers that I heard in some of the riffs that they played. Sometimes they went full scream and distortion. That kind of sounded like Poison the Well. All of it made them sound like an indie band. I was lukewarm about it all. The crowd had a hot and rowdy response.

Foxing at The National. Photo by Michael Phillips Photography.

The time had finally come. I prepared for the incineration as Manchester Orchestra got on stage and went to work in dim, shadowy lighting. The dark, ambulatory nature of their silhouettes gave the impression that we were not watching the band, but the revenant messengers of the band. They gave up their image to reveal their personal truths in a captivating, memorable, and impressive fashion. 

Alas, to my surprise, the heat of the inferno was not cast upon the crowd. Face to face with my own ignorance, I watched a band take a roaring fire and use its power instead to light a vigil. I watched the crowd ignite with newfound joy and hopeful renewal. I felt a surge of luminous warmth for a band that could turn the heavy heat of grief into the glowing light of love. 

In the words of Hull himself from their new single “Bed Head,” “You and I are holy fire.” 

We left the vigil glowing with warmth. 

Top Photo: Manchester Orchestra by Shervin Lainez (Press Photo)

George Wethington

George Wethington

George Wethington is a master of the interviewing process and a connoisseur of collegiate admissions. He likes to spend time in nature. It is his nature.

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