Band of Horses
@ The Independent
May 29, 2010
Better than: A warm night in San Francisco.
Ben Bridwell has made it clear he is a man of few words. After "hello" and "thank you" the Band of Horses frontman passed up any further opportunity for small talk Saturday night, and instead, powered right into the band's first song. They opened with "Monsters" off first record, Everything All the Time. Bridwell's voice reverberated out into the crowd: clear, powerful, and spilling with emotion. The big arena sound the band is known for took over the more intimate venue, and with each bass line and drum beat, I could feel the sound travel through the floor, shaking up through my feet.
Bridwell, appeared thin and wiry in a 70s rock god kind of way, dressed in a gray button down, dark slacks, and cowboy boots. His sharp attire contrasted with his straggly beard, and the neck tattoos, which peaked out from above his shirt collar. When not singing, Bridwell moved in circles around the center of the stage with a loose, confident energy, shaking his hips slightly and pumping his fists towards the ground. Bassist Bill Reynolds paced the stage with excitement, stopping often to take a wide stance and furiously pull on his guitar strings. There are a few moments I think I might have seen him mouth "yee haw", but I'm not sure. Guitarist Tyler Ramsey was more subdued, as was keyboardist Ryan Monroe, both smiling and exchanging glances with Bridwell every so often, but neither making much eye contact with the audience. Creighton Barrett rounded out the band, beating away on the drums while looking up towards the sea of people shaking in a frenzy.
The show moved at a rapid pace as they jammed through an hour and 45-minute set with limited chitchat between songs. Beloved Everything hits, "The Funeral" and "The Great Salt Lake," got some of the biggest reactions from the crowd all night, especially "The Great Salt Lake" in which Bridwell held the pause between the last verse and chorus of the song, eliciting a fevered breakout of collective screaming and clapping. "It feels so good," Bridwell said, eyes closed, smiling into the mic before ending the pause with a crashing
2007's Cease to Begin album provided the majority of the night's set list. Highlights included the wistful love songs, "Detlef Schrempft" and "No One's Gonna Love You," as well as the intense and urgent "Ode to LRC" and "Is There a Ghost". Each song became a giant sing-along, encouraged by Bridwell as he turned his microphone towards us at certain choruses. All around me were eyes closed, heads down, and hands on hearts. Band of Horses simply makes music to touch the nerves that spurs vivid memories: memories of falling in love or of heartbreak.
Peppered throughout the set were tracks from the new album, Infinite Arms, just released on May 18th. "We're going to play some songs we really haven't played before if that's okay," Bridwell said, sounding slightly apologetic at first. "I don't know, maybe it's not...maybe it's a good time to go to the bathroom or smoke a cigarette," he added with a sudden tone of thinly veiled annoyance. It was difficult to tell if he was being self-deprecating or expressing frustration with a typical audience's reception of new material. There might even have been a hit of residual anger over Infinite Arms' mixed reviews. But the crowd cheered with genuine approval. New song, "Factory," was a highlight, a dreamy, swooning love song that perfectly melded the aching twang of a country music ballad with a gritty pop coating. "Compliments," and "On My Way Back Home," stand out as well, and whether or not they were fans of the band's latest work, there was no mass exodus for the bathroom or smoker's area.
To close the show, Band of Horses delivered a four-song encore, including a beautiful, stripped down version of "Our Swords" with only Bridwell, Reynolds, and Barrett onstage, and an insanely spirited cover of Yo La Tengo's "Sugarcube", in which the full band combined the intensity of three guitars (Yo La Tengo plays the song with one), to create a frenzied, spectacular end to an already emotional night. As the sweaty crowd funneled out of The Independent into the street, all I could think was how I can't believe we get to do this all again in September.