A live show is a business transaction. You spend your money on a ticket, expecting at least equal value in return. That value comprises a few primary components -- length of show; quality of the sound; what was on the setlist -- and a few secondary ones, like the supporting acts and the size and mood of the crowd.
"Business-like" can be taken pejoratively, as if it implies a lack of emotion. It doesn't necessarily. And it aptly describes the Band of Horses show Thursday night. They played for about 95 minutes; the setlist comprised nearly two dozen songs and included plenty of their best or best-known songs; the sound was fair to good; and the crowd was big (about 1,400) and, for the most part, engaged most of the night but especially towards the end, when some of the heavier artillery was deployed.
The evening began with Ben Bridwell and Mat Brooke serenading the crowd beneath them from one of the theater's balconies. "Evening Kitchen" was the opener, and they gave it the folk-duet treatment. Same with the next song, the melancholy love ballad "No One's Gonna Love You." It wasn't an explosive opening, but it set up the next one, the boisterous "NW Apt," a song off the new album, which they launched from the main stage with the rest of the band.
BoH is rock band -- rock as in "indie," not hard or modern -- but its roots are also in folk and country. It can sound vaguely like everyone from R.E.M. and the Byrds to the Shins to the Flaming Lips, like during the cosmic "Factory," and Neil Young, like during "Laredo." (And when they sang the slow, folkie "Blue Beard" they sounded a little like Poco).
They can be moody and downtempo, in songs like "No One's Gonna Love You" and "Detlef Schrempf," a ballad named after a former Seattle Supersonic and one of the band's prettiest numbers (and one of my favorites all evening). Or they can rip into a full-throttle anthem, like "NW Apt" or "Islands on the Coast" or an amped-up version of the invigorating "Weed Party," all of which helped set a good mood early. And they can do both in the same song, like "Is There A Ghost," one of the closers, which opens tranquilly and then blows up into a throbbing guitar anthem.
BoH is touring off its latest album, "Infinite Arms," which was recorded with three new band members (Bridwell is the only BoH member left from the days of "Everything All the Time," its full-length debut). Its discography comprises three full-lengths and one EP, but already the new stuff is showing resemblances, weak and strong. to the old, and those become even more evident when strung together for 90-plus minutes, as they were Thursday night. "Laredo," for example, sounded like a slightly remodeled "Weed Party."
The stage presentation was relatively static: Not much personality coming from the band (save for some sincere thank-yous), and the visuals were large, pastoral portraits of wild life and outdoor scenes cast on an enormous screen behind the band. So there were moments when the mood settled and the crowd waited to hear something it recognized or liked more, which is what made the last 25 or 30 minutes the better part of a good show. That's when they pulled out aces like"The Funeral," "The Great Salt Lake" and "Is There a Ghost." That's when the crowd sustained its enthusiasm; that's when people most looked like they were in the throes of satisfaction, like they'd gotten their $25 worth, at least.
The Besnard Lakes and Brad: I caught about half of Besnard Lakes and a little of Brad, who include Stone Gossard of Pearl Jam. The Lakes' dynamic soundscapes (check out "Like the Ocean") are definitely worth another look/hear.
Band of Horses set list: Evening Kitchen; No One's Gonna Love You; NW Apt.; Islands on the Coast; Part One (Savannah); Older; Blue Beard; Compliments; Ode to LRC; Wicked GIl; Dilly; Detlef Schrempf; Cigarettes, Wedding Bands; The General Specific; Laredo; The Marry Song; The Funeral; The Great Salt Lake; Is There a Ghost.
| Timothy Finn, The Star