Band of Horses
With Tyler Ramsey and Woody Chowder
Revolution, Fort Lauderdale
Wednesday, August 3, 2011
View a 25-shot slide show from the concert here.
Better than: Going backstage, vomiting, and drinking a beer.
Although Kings of Leon stood to lose plenty by canceling 29 U.S. tour dates due to singer Caleb Followill's "exhaustion" -- maybe as much as $15 million and an incalculable amount of cred -- their opening act, Band of Horses, also faced a dire situation as soon as a month's work dried up. KOL is a platinum-selling act, and BOH would like to be someday. In terms of beards, swaying potential, and rootsy live acumen, it would seem to be a wise pairing to warm people up for the Kings with Benjamin Bridwell's one-of-a-kind vocal clarity, range, and power and his scruffy band's willingness to back a self-proclaimed "sad man complaining at 80 beats per minute." But could the aperitif play main course?
There were more than a few music fans with asymmetrical haircuts -- young women in oversized T-shirts hanging perfectly off their tanned shoulders and young men in plaid shirts rolled crisply to the sleeves -- in the will-call line before the show asking each other, "Did you originally buy tickets for the Kings of Leon show?" And "Oh, no way," was the overarching response. It could be that no one wants to be associated with a band currently clogging up TMZ next to Casey Anthony and Samantha Ronson, but there's also a level of mainstream acceptance that Band of Horses has yet to reach that keeps them more rooted in Sub Pop culture (their old label) as opposed to Columbia (their current one).
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Not that there were a ton of people who seemed to want to discuss the music industry on this night, but the old-school hustle employed by promoters and Revolution's staff bordered upon acrobatic. If anything, a hastily announced show with a semiproven band at a 1,000-capacity venue -- as well as that $30 ticket -- was far from a guaranteed success. But attendance proved to be brisk, and half-full plastic cups lined any flat surface by midway through the evening.
What was instead felt throughout the room was the wet slide into a washbasin of Band of Horses' down-home, South Carolina (via Seattle) stew of Americana (by request). Set to a backdrop of a thinly packed forest, the poly-tattooed Bridwell in a snug-fitting polo shirt led us deep
into their rustic, earthy ways of rock that are more than a respected type of musical entertainment at the moment. Bits of Fleet Foxes, Dr. Dog, Bon Iver, My Morning Jacket, and yes, the Kings of Leon, overlap with the five-piece act's scraggly, union suit-meets-American Apparel appearance, but it's hard to picture anyone as ready to jump into a rural cowpoke fantasy as bassist Bill Reynolds -- somewhere, John Prine was smiling.
And perhaps this is what a crowd very in touch with its own coolness needed to just relax for an evening. Sad-eyed
ladies of the lowlands with thick eyeshadow and exquisitely painted lips peered intently at the blue-tinted stage and sang along without qualms. Many of them were leaning in the crook of a man's (or woman's) arm for the duration, and Band of Horses' specific BPM standards allowed for couples to continue their nostalgic young-adult friction throughout the arguably upbeat moments of the evening, like "Laredo," from last year's Infinite Arms.
Although the band's recording history ventures back only to the mid-aughts (and yes, Bridwell had bands prior to BOH), the lyrical content has that undercurrent of lifetimes of past troubles hidden in its honeysuckle arrangements. From "Laredo": "I put a bullet in my Kia Lorenzo/A kitchen knife fucked in my face/Throw me in the deep of Jenner Lake/Believe me when I say/That oh, my love, you don't even call/And oh, my love, is that you on the phone?" Even if Band of Horses has the capability to write a corporate radio-ready ballad like "Use Somebody," they haven't the stones to put it on an album just yet.
Songs "Is There a Ghost," "No One's Gonna Love You," and "The Funeral" -- remembered for
selling domestic automobiles and creating umpteen climactic moments on TV and film -- represent the closest attempts at the sweeping, epic songcraft that perhaps would earn Band of Horses their own headlining tour of the massive performance sheds Kings of Leon had at their disposal. And notably, these are the three songs that ended the initial set for the evening. Credit Bridwell and company for stretching what had been opener-length sets on their tour to this point into a full-throttle evening of entertainment, but up until this trio of songs, the intensity didn't stick. After "The Funeral" wrapped, a local musician who was elated during much of the night wanted it noted that he was planning to leave before the encore -- and many others followed suit -- which doesn't speak favorably to the depth of the BOH catalog.
For those who stayed, the arc of the night proved to be evolutionary. All of the "openers" were members of the band. Guitarist Tyler Ramsey began the night playing blues-inflected solo material on a stool, then Bridwell joined him for some tight harmonies for some material under the Woody Chowder moniker, and midway through "Ode to LRC," the rest of the band sauntered onstage. By the encore, Band of Horses was finally playing as loose-limbed as their audience.
Not to say that the guys need to stir up Caleb Followill-level turmoil and onstage debauchery to keep a crowd in the palm of their hands, but it wasn't until the final few songs that Bridwell's mouthful of enormous teeth opened as wide as they could go and he started punching the air (and a pedal steel that wasn't getting properly amplified). A live moment such as this is what earns a band an "authenticity" tag moreso than greasy beards and woodsy motifs, and it's a hope for Band of Horses that they recognize the difference. If they develop more material set to match that mode, the Kings' throne awaits.
What eventually came out of Bridwell's massive pipes for the "Am I a Good Man" cover was perhaps the most striking, workingman performance of the evening. As he waved his inked arms, a wild-eyed energy surged onstage. It was a striking, soulful end, but it should have been the beginning.
Fact: Disaster semi-averted as Band of Horses will play a few more headlining shows in cities where they were set to open for KOL.
Overheard: "If there was a horse onstage, I'd shit myself." "I hope they play a My Morning Jacket cover."
The crowd: A cross section of people who consider themselves to be hip. And these adorable kids.
Random detail: Yes, there was a deer on the amp.
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Ode to LRC - second half with full band
The General Specific
Cigarettes, Wedding Bands
The Great Salt Lake
Is There a Ghost
No One's Gonna Love You
Am I a Good Man (Them Two cover)