Christopher Mansfield rarely opens his eyes. Maybe it’s for fear of looking out into the Mercury Lounge and seeing the sweeping sudden success he’s had in music since just 2010, or maybe he’s just exhausted from writing really good songs.
Fences sounds like what grunge would have been if it had been birthed in 2009, during times of flourishing indie folk and sad emo acoustics, rather than in the 80’s and 90’s on the heels of metal. It’s not that Fences is grunge at all, but their sound is to indie rock and acoustic artists what early grunge bands were to rock, a more raw and angsty-in-a-good-way variation of the original. “Stripped-down” compared to the predecessors, just like grunge was, they are not folk, they are not emo, and they are not pop punk, in any sense. Fences have a different sort of spirit to their music, a twist, one that I couldn’t quite put my finger on from just listening to their self-titled debut album. It’s all in the live performance.
Fences is incredibly genuine onstage. Their songs somehow become even more heartfelt and real on the small Mercury Lounge stage, and Christopher Mansfield’s picture might actually be in the dictionary next to the world “humble”, saying “Thank you so much” after every single song and even “If anyone in here know who we are at all, sing along to this one” before “Girls With Accents”. They seem to give off really good vibes, not just with their music, but also with the atmosphere and endearingly awkward banter with the crowd while tuning guitars. Even with the short set that included just the tracks from the debut album and one new one, “Oh Father”, Fences conveys a storm of reliability and emotion. As a fan in the crowd said to me, “His songs make me fall in love with the idea of being close to someone again”. If anything, that’s powerful stuff.
Christopher Mansfield’s voice is nice to listen to (and look at), and his band is really fun to watch. The two best songs of the night were “Sadie” and “Girls With Accents”, both of which really show of Fences’ songwriting skills, pairing melodic hooks and distorted guitars. Saying “I’m fucking up” over and over again never sounded so dreamy.