Singer-songwriter Kevin Devine and Manchester Orchestra leader Andy Hull began their musical partnership as Bad Books in 2010 after touring together several times. The band, made up of Devine, Hull, and a group of Manchester Orchestra members, released their self-titled debut album that year, and a follow-up, II, in 2012. The project took a backseat for several years as both artists focused on new releases by their primary projects (with Devine releasing a trio of albums, Bubblegum, Bulldozer, and Instigator, and Manchester Orchestra releasing Cope and A Black Mile to the Surface), but it was never forgotten by the band or their fans. Earlier this year, they announced a new album, III, which was released on June 14th. Stripped down to the core trio of Devine, Hull, and Manchester Orchestra guitarist Robert McDowell, the record is a quieter, more somber release than its predecessors, but is still a worthy successor to them.
The trio has mostly kept this stripped-back format for their tour, though they were joined by Caroline Swon (who also opened the show with a set of songs from her own project, Brother Bird, backed by McDowell) on keyboards. Still, without drums or bass, the songs have a significantly different feel than the group’s previous efforts. In addition, the band has reworked a number of songs from those earlier albums to fit the new format. Though they were much different before, tracks like “It Never Stops,” “Forest Whitaker,” and “Holding Down the Laughter” fit in with the set perfectly while still remaining perfectly recognizable.
One of the most striking things witnessing Bad Books on stage is that it’s more than a band – the musicians are good friends as well. The interplay and antics between the members is almost as entertaining as the songs themselves, such as when Hull complained about a fly that he said had been following him all day, and then clapped it loudly at an opportunely quiet moment of Devine’s “Wheel Well.” And despite its status as a side-project, it’s clear that they take Bad Books seriously as well – at one point during the pre-show VIP Q&A, referring to albums “IV” and “V” as if they are almost certain to (eventually) happen.
While the band’s east coast dates come to an end on Friday evening, they’ll be picking up again with a series of west coast dates in August. For fans of Kevin Devine or Manchester Orchestra, it’s one not to be missed.
Bad Books set list
Pytor The After Party Holding Down the Laughter Friendly Advice You Wouldn’t Have To Ask Mesa, AZ UFO I Wrote It Down For You Lake House Wheel Well Left Your Body You’re A Mirror I Cannot Avoid Let Her Cry I Love You, I’m Sorry, Please Help Me, Thank You Forest Whitaker It Never Stops