There is something exceedingly uplifting and near-transcendent about a Band of Horses show, especially if you can wedge yourself down in the front where the waves of sound crash over you and your feet vibrate throughout the entire show from the bass.
After Kings of Leon canceled the tour where BOH was opening, dates were rescheduled with just the Seattle quintet in smaller venues. I found myself grateful to get to see them in that dark, small Fox Theatre on Monday night instead of the Comfort Dental Amphitheatre or wherever they were scheduled to play before.
It’s been years since I have seen BOH live, and since then they’ve released the newest album, Infinite Arms, and further perfected their excoriating live show. It was a holistic music-enjoyment experience for me, as they project an endless stream of images on the large screen behind them throughout the night.
My brain soared all over the place, as the images of wheatfields and old barns and crowded parties and starry nights swirled and spun into their songs. I loved the way the show tied together the visual with the auditory, because that’s how I hear music. This was especially potent on “Ode to LRC” where the crowd sang along with the line, “The world is such a wonderful place,” as scenes flashed rapid-fire behind the band, or as “Is There a Ghost” was sung in front of stars and a crescent moon. Yes.
Their songs are all universally bigger on-stage, with a greater energy; I found it to be way more Neil Young/expansive-70s-country-rock than I expected. Every song was dazzling, and even the loping dreamy ones on the records took on an urgent, dynamic air.
It’s also clear from watching this band that they all genuinely like each other, and that chemistry crackles back and forth between their music while they are on-stage. This was especially apparent during the encore performance of “Evening Kitchen” (one of my favorite songs on the new album), performed with just Ben Bridwell and guitarist Tyler Ramsey, who wrote the song.
The evening was one of those rare concert experiences where everything comes a little unsewn inside you, and for two blissful hours you are redeemed.
Also: a note about the opener. After recording a Chapel Session with me on Saturday afternoon, BOH guitarist Tyler Ramsey opened the show with his intricately haunting solo material. Watching his fingers fly over the strings again was spell-binding. His new solo album The Valley Wind comes out on Fat Possum later this month, and I can’t wait to share that chapel session with you guys.
I’m coming up only to hold you under
I’m coming up only to show you wrong
and to know you is hard,
and we wonder…..
The original Band of Horses song “The Funeral” is a shimmering, gorgeous cascade that always reminded me of watching waves break, or a beam of sunlight shoot through the clouds – direct and powerful. Breathtaking when it explodes around that 1:20 mark.
But there’s something in those lyrics that catches in the back of my throat, that I must admit gives me pause with its undertones of… vengeance? Sadness? Regrets? It’s never been more prominent to me than the way Serena Ryder takes this song and makes it her own. Her voice is a powerful creation that feels muted here, but channels a hint of Janis Joplin, or more recently the marvelous Samantha Crain. This recording comes from a 4-song EP of covers a la Cat Power.
I am entranced by her throaty alto re-creation — smoky and restrained, and yet so terrifically mournful.
Woodshed Films is the surf film collaborative through which brothers Chris and Emmett Malloy (along with Tim Lynch, Jack Johnson, and other artists) have turned out artistic surf culture films like Thicker Than Water, Sprout, Brokedown Melody and Shelter.
I appreciate how their work turns a daring eye towards breathtaking natural cinematography, and captures a raw & pure excitement for surfing that I can catch onto even though those damn surfboards have never cooperated with my specific self. Their films succeed at what good filmmaking is supposed to do (what good anything is supposed to do, really — writing, music included): they make you feel the way it feels, and they show you why they love it.
In addition to the graceful arcs of the ocean and the powerful control exerted by the surfers they follow, their films are always accompanied by some fantastic soundtracks. Not surprising since The Malloys are also heavily involved with the Brushfire Records label, which began with Jack Johnson as an outcropping of their film soundtracks. Check the trailer for their new film One Track Mind which premieres on Facebook next week.
On the second day of its second year, Monolith solidified its place as a festival to be reckoned with. Also, Jesus took the stage in a glowing cloud of blue light — oh wait, no that’s Band of Horses. Close to divine.
Although the attendance this year was a ways from capacity, Monolith is still one of the better festivals I’ve been to recently, with its diverse lineup of acts –from hip hop to acoustic indie, cock rock to electronica– and gorgeous Colorado scenery. Maybe it’s just our mountain air but everyone seemed to be in a good mood. Each time slot had at least one band I wanted to see, usually three or sometimes four. I could live the festival through another few rounds (with permission from my liver, of course) in order to see all the acts I missed. Kudos all around this year on a solid festival well done.
If Monolith returns in ’09, I still hold onto the hope that they can bribe somebody from the Dept of Parks and Wildlife or whatever, and find a way to incorporate camping on some of the rolling land stretching out around Red Rocks (what a gorgeous location, right?) to make it more of a destination festival, like Coachella. Staying six miles down the highway at the Sheraton West was nice but not quite the same.
So Sunday — armed with Chipotle and some parking lot libations — we rolled in for day two of the festival. After braving the unseasonably nasty elements the night before, we were pleased to see gorgeous skies again that this time stayed all day. The remnants of summer were the perfect backdrop to the sunny music of Pomegranates, the first whole set I caught on Sunday.
Pomegranates sound at once epic and approachable — music that demands you take notice but in such a chiming, iridescent way. Over sugary flourishes, their multilayered percussion built and anticipated then crashed down in avalanches of catharsis. I loved their set. WOXY sponsored their stage, and also loves them; check a full live Lounge Act set here.
I heard the hard-driving scowl and Southern rock of American Bang reverberating through a wall and tentatively opened the door to see who was playing. I was summarily knocked flat; theirs was one of those sets you happen upon and everyone walks out saying, “Who WAS that?!” Kings of Leon comparisons are easy (before KOL got all clean cut and pretty) with their Nashville roots, classic rock swagger, screams and skinny jeans. It’s stuff to play loud from your 1970 Chevelle while you drive to get tickets for the Aerosmith show, and it was great.
Tokyo Police Club played at the mid-afternoon mark, and the kids from Saddle Creek seemed competent on the large stage and unrestrained in their delight. I always think I hear a smile in Dave Monks’ voice on this song, and you can see it in the pictures below.
For the final song of the Avett Brothers‘ sundrenched set on Sunday aftenoon, bassist Bob Crawford laid aside the gorgeous baroque curves of his golden standup bass and picked up an electric guitar. As the band raged and thrashed their sweaty bodies through that final song, a sort of transliteration hit me. The electric guitar personified the same sentiment of outright rock that their whole set had spoken, but in the language of things like banjos.
Moreso than the first time I saw them a few weeks ago, this set was gutting to me. I kept finding myself riveted by a wry twist of lyric in a song that was new to me, or marvelling at how their voices blended, cooperated, and fought in the way that only brothers can. Their set caught the attention of the casual listeners and the unfamiliar — even the gruff security guard down in the photo pit. I noticed him listening intently, and then forsaking his post to turn around and gape as they launched into “Die, Die, Die.” He pressed me for all the details I knew about them and actually took notes. I think a lot of folks walked away with a desire to seek out more.
The Avetts have recently spent a few weeks in the studio with producer Rick Rubin for a new album due out in the Spring. They played one of those new songs, a sweet and simple tune called “Standing With You.” When I heard it last week I was struck by the lyric, “So many nights go by like a flash, from a camera without any film” — so much so that I typed it into my phone as a memo. Maybe I took a shine to it because I have a horrible memory. But I was pleased to find this video [via] and I ripped the tune for now (so I won’t forget):
With my head spinning from the Avetts, I climbed the 472 stairs to see the talent show spectacle of Tilly And The Wall. Their set was infectiously amazing fun because they have a tap-dancer as percussionist, don’t ya know. I never learned tap dance, but if I had, this is precisely the band I would want to be in.
I only caught the tail end of the set from sexy London garage punk duo The Kills, but as I wedged myself into the area between the edge of the stage, some scaffolding, and various amps to try and get a few good pics while I enjoyed their sounds, Jamie Hince spotted me and directed a little bit of his rock god energy my way. Blending equal parts Bowie and PJ Harvey with that clear White Stripes energy, I was impressed.
Band of Horses was seriously meant to play a venue like Red Rocks. Along with recent groups like My Morning Jacket who have sent their majestic songs cascading through the oxygenless air to rain down upon the happy masses, Ben Bridwell’s haunting high tenor sounded flawless, the band powerful in that setting.
Airborne Toxic Event has been busy in the week since Monolith, defending their art to the soulcrushers at Pitchfork, but at the show I saw they were single-mindedly focused on bringing their songs to life. They played on one of the smallest stages Monolith had to offer and packed it in — imagine the swells of this immense and cinematic song bouncing off the wall of red rock in that underground cubbyhole. Is it just me, or is this a great song? “You just have to see her; you know that she’ll break you in two.”
After Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip impressed the heck out of me at Coachella, I told everyone who was undecided in the late afternoon that their set was the one to see. With their intelligent and literate songcraft mixed with can’t-sit-still beats, I wasn’t disappointed this time either. Theirs was the single most crowded show I saw on the WOXY stage. There were two entrances into the hallway pitstop where the stage was wedged, and both doors had a line 20-30 people deep trying to get in to hear them. Deservedly so.
Thou Shalt Always Kill – Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip (the original version, which I like better than the cut that made the album)
Cansei de Ser Sexy (CSS) was in their element headlining the second stage in the gusty September wind while the tightly-packed crowd danced under the stars. They sounded fantastic and fun, although I must say that Lovefoxx kind of confused me with that fluffy thing that maybe she borrowed from Bjork. By that point in the night it is good to know that Matt Picasso and I were on the same page; he wrote about the “poofiness that defied gravity” and admitted “while I should’ve probably been focused on how great they sounded, I kept thinking ‘wow, that Christmas tree thing is amazing.’” I’m so right there with you buddy. But the best thing was that watching her dance in it made me want to dance too. Which I suppose is the point.
Seattle’s Band of Horses turned up at the top of many “Best-Of” lists this year with their full-length debut Everything All The Time (Sub Pop), a jangly, shimmering album that is mandatorily compared to The Shins, My Morning Jacket, and Neil Young in every album review ever written (oh, and sometimes Flaming Lips).
Yep, you can hear all those influences, but I think they are doing so well because –beyond the comparisons– they have an eminently fresh & enjoyable sound that is uniquely their own.
Before they hit the blog buzz this year, they released several versions of demo tapes (under the simplified moniker “Horses”) that are worth taking a listen to. This is the stuff that caught the ears of Sub Pop:
Name: Heather Browne Location: Colorado, originally by way of California Giving context to the torrent since 2005.
"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
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