Show Review: Band of Horses ACL Taping (10/2)
As the ACL Music Festivities came to a close a stones throw away from downtown Austin on Sunday evening, Seattles Band of Horses found themselves hanging in the balance between two very different musical settings. On Friday night, the band performed for the mass festival crowd in front of thousands at Zilker Park which brings a certain degree of exuberance and community, yet still slightly impersonal vibe. Struggling with sound bleed from adjacent stages, the quieter moments which the band is well known for dont lend themselves well. Sunday night however, they graced the Austin City Limits stage for the second time (Season 36, 2010) for a deeply personal and cathartic experience for audience and band alike, showing that the band is a true master of dynamic range when given the proper venue. Hit the jump for more.
While in support of their latest LP, Why Are You Ok, the 5-piece brought their dream folk rock expertise to the Moody Theater and were truly in good form from the first finger pickings of Is There a Ghost, the opener from 2007s Cease to Begin. From the sleepy openings to the thunderous crescendo, there was no doubt where the groups perfect setting resides. On a night where the sound mix at the Moody was absolutely pitch perfect, lead singer/guitarist Ben Bridwells unique soprano voice cut like a knife through the hearts of the audience with ease. Using his entire body to construct some higher reaching notes, Bridwell, seemed well at ease aside from the lack of signature trucker hat from the onset.
Playing a strong mix of songs from their 5 album catalog, the 5-pieces set list left little to be desired. Following Ghost was the driving Great Salt Lake which quickly highlighted the groups ability to balance the soft and loud moments. Casual Party was the first single to emerge from the latest offering and its playful and clich rendition of that horrible party everyones attended at one point or another, followed quickly by Solemn Oath. 2010s Infinite Arms single Laredo made an appearance as did the aforementioned trucker cap which brought some balance back to the universe along with some playful musings amongst the band in between songs. Alt country ballad Throw My Mess from the newest LP brought lead guitarist Tyler Ramseys signature slide guitar in the foray.
As the supporting members took a short break, Bridwell and Ramsey stepped into center stage to perform what surely was the highlight of many concert-goers musical years, if not decades, an acoustic, stripped down version of No Ones Gonna Love You. Few performances bring such emotional responses as this simple, sweet song performed in such a way and it moved the audience into respectful silence hanging on every single word. This touching and simple moment was what was unachievable on Friday night at the Festival and the Moody audience was better off for it. There was a certain understanding that this is a safe setting for vulnerability and tenderness. An extended standing ovation ensued which is simply the least we could have offered in return. Keyboardist and backup guitarist, Ryan Monroe, joined the two on stage afterwards on mandolin for another beautifully rendered version of Part One from the debut album Everything All the Time. Three-part harmonies hung in the air weightlessly amongst the gentle strumming from the trio.
A third shift change saw bassist, Bill Reynolds, and Bridwells childhood friend and drummer, Creighton Barrett onto the stage for the double bass dominated Our Swords. Welcoming the remaining members back to the stage, the slow jam Detlef Shrempf and 2 new songs, Hag and the synth inspired In a Drawer continued the folk rock narrative with an electronic spin. For the dnouement, the always welcomed and epic song about death, in title at least per Bridwell, The Funeral followed which brought the crowd back to its feet for a second time. Some musicians go their entire lives without writing songs as amazing as The Funeral and these guys just put it out in their debut like its no big deal. From death to once again the full exuberance of life, General Specifics closed out the near perfect set with the band jumping around the stage with wild excitement and a third and highly warranted standing ovation.
The performance as a whole was one for the ages and certainly one of the best sounding sets Ive had the privilege to hear first-hand at the Moody. There is certainly no bad seat in the house and the sound is generally top notch for anyone who plays there. But on Sunday night, the timing was right and the mood was right for Band of Horses to serenade us all into sweet blissful surrender. Final note; Im still disappointed that no horses are actually in the band yet. Docked a few points for false advertising and I hope they amend this for their next album.