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Photos: Bad Books at Newport Music Hall

Matt Ellis Matt Ellis Photos: Bad Books at Newport Music HallPhotos by Matt Ellis.
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After six years away, Manchester Orchestra’s Andy Hull and singer-songwriter Kevin Devine surprised the indie-rock world by dusting off their brilliant side project, Bad Books. They announced not only a new album but also a tour, which just so happened to stop by the Newport Music Hall on Friday night.

I largely enjoyed the band’s previous albums, but I have to admit, it took me quite a few listens to Bad Books’ new release before I understood it. It’s a slow burn. The collaboration, along with Manchester bandmate Robert McDowell, have chosen to ditch the full band approach and instead doubled down on emotional storytelling backed up only by acoustic guitars and the occasional keyboard. This is no longer a collection of leftovers, this is focused and cohesive — what Bad Books should’ve always been.

So, it came as no surprise to find a simple, no frills performance. Hull and Devine’s songs sounded simply wonderful as the two switched back and forth between vocal and guitar duties, while the crowd were often left in silent appreciation, fixed on the music that was able to breath a little more in the spacious Newport Music Hall.

Fan favorite sing-alongs “It Never Stops” and “Forest Whitaker” found their place next to the newer, deeper poetic numbers like “I Love You, I’m Sorry, Please Help Me, Thank you” and the sad, haunting strums of “Lake House.”

While the music was always the highlight, the friendship between Hull and Devine was obvious to see and made for a highly intimate experience, as the two joked with each other and spent time interacting with the crowd. There was a relaxed feel to the evening that I’ve never seen from either member when they’re with their day-job bands.

They’ve put out an unexpectedly great album and one of my favorite shows of the year. It’s good to have them back.

Nashville singer-songwriter Brother Bird, aka Caroline Swon, opened the evening.

Matt Ellis is a freelance photographer who covers bands that visit the city and the Columbus Crew MLS team. More about Matt can be found on his Instagram.

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