Musically, South Carolina's Band of Horses straddle the fine line between alt-rock cool and old- fashioned Southern rootsy-ness. Their evocative blend of US indie and country-tinged Neil Young balladeering has hit home with bloggers and ordinary music fans alike.
This balance doesn't always come off as happily away from the music. Taking to the stage of Bristol's famous boat, the band's leader, Ben Bridwell, enquired how we were doing. Whoops and hollers ensued. "Thanks, we're doing 'wooh' too," deadpaned the singer, down-home charm losing out to hipster knowingness.
But when Band of Horses started to play, the emotion in the music shone through and the doubts subsided. They opened with Bridwell, seated, taking us through "Monsters", a slow-building highlight from their 2006 debut album, Everything All the Time, his echoey voice as strong as on record. Three songs in and he was on his feet and the band showed their first real signs of life. But despite the gathering momentum of "The Great Salt Lake", it was not until a mid-set double of non-album tracks – one sung by the keyboardist, Ryan Monroe – that they moved beyond simply being impressive players running through familiar material to an appreciative crowd.
From then on it was one great performance after another, the songs taken equally from their two albums. Last year's Cease to Begin is a slightly more homely affair than its predecessor, but together the tunes worked equally well, from rousing rockers like "Weed Party", with its "yee-haw!" opening holler, to their gentle current single, "No One's Gonna Love You". The playing became stronger still and we felt the full effect of the all-bearded six-piece.
They climaxed with "The Funeral" ("This is our false last song," said Bridwell in a brief return to "cool") and by that point the audience was lapping them up. The three-guitar attack, strangely muted early on, hammered home the sad anthem to full effect. "At every occasion I'll be ready for a funeral," sang Bridwell, his impressive vocal chords having lasted the distance.
It felt like the band had played all its best songs, but the encore emphasised just how many good tracks they have written. After they returned as a trio for the jittery, bass-led "Our Swords", the rest of the band came back on to follow it up with the sing-a-long "The General Specific". This would have been a fine end, but there was a further treat. Bridwell announced "a Keith Richards tune" and the band kicked into "Act Together", a Ronnie Wood solo effort from 1974. It was a gamble, but it worked, a touching, jubilant finale to a splendid evening.
David Simpson, Financial services copywriter, Bristol
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