In support of Modest Mouse, Sub Pop rockers Band of Horses played their first (and hopefully not last) show at the historic Ryman Auditorium. Successfully mixing foot-stomping favorites from their debut LP Everything All The Time with new tracks to appear on their sophomore follow-up Cease to Begin due out later this year, the band undoubtedly left their impression on the largely unfamiliar crowd. Frontman Ben Bridwell started the show by offering the familiar "its such a great honor to play in this building" banter that can be expected by any band appearing on the hallowed stage for their maiden musical voyage. The audience was made up mostly of older Modest Mouse diehards and teen hipsters there anxiously anticipating pop staples "Float On" and "Dashboard" in the headlining set. That being said, the audience grew more and more endeared with the Band of Horses sound as the South Carolina rockers set wore on.
After opening with a so-so new tune off of their forthcoming sophomore album, BoH cranked it up for their inspired "Great Salt Lake" that fired up the excited few of us that were there to see the new lineup. "Our Swords" was the unquestionable highlight of the night, as the set up of the band resembled an audio/visual kaleidoscope of drums and bass with two drummers sitting on risers and another below flanked by Reynolds and Bridwell on bass guitar. The setup resembled a 2-1-2 basketball defense with rhythm and bass being the key defenders. It truly was one of those "dude, you had to be there" moments. With three drummers ripping the same beat together and Bridwell playing a percussive bass rhythm along with full-time bassist Bill Reynolds, the song represented a microcosmic rock manifestation of an orchestral arrangement. The layered rhythms of "Our Swords" had a mesmerizing effect on a previously indifferent crowd and led to a more engaged, intrigued, and raucous crowd for the remainder of the show. Sonically, Band of Horses goes from zero to eleven and back at the drop of a hat and songs like "Funeral" and "St. Augustine" illustrate this fact. The band closed with a powerful cover of the Ron Wood tune "Act Together" that had Bridwell harnessing the vocal power of Axl Rose and the new keyboard player showing an appreciation for some good old-fashioned Delta keyboard wizardry. This tune got the best reaction from the Ryman pews evidenced by the well-deserved standing ovation the band got before exiting stage right.
The three-guitar attack was surprisingly subdued at times but punctual when it came to picking up on complex intricacies of the oftentimes atmospheric instrumental breaks that is such a recognizable part of their sound. Combining thought-provoking lyricism, an authentic, genuine "aw shucks" disposition with an alt-country backbone makes Band of Horses resonate with the My Morning Jacket and Wilco fans. Nevertheless, if you are looking for these guys to shoot from the hip and stray far from the album's sound, you won't find it. In many ways this can be frustrating and some might ask, "why mess with a perfectly good product?" As the band becomes more and more comfortable in their own shoes perhaps they will begin take more musical liberties on-stage and add new layers and elements to their songs in the live setting. The band played a solid, robust opening set for a largely indifferent crowd and something about Band of Horses being on the eternally innovative Sub Pop label tells me that these guys will be back to the Ryman stage again in the coming years. Maybe next time their name will appear largest on the Hatch Print.
--7 out of 10