Band of Horses – House of Blues, Boston 09/12/12

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With all the plaid flannel and beards accounted for on this chilly and slightly rainy Boston night, Band Of Horses take the stage to great, enthusiastic applause. One person in the crowd expresses envy for one beard in particular – that of guitarist Tyler Ramsey – while also speculating about its softness. The band is altogether in visibly good spirits, as is the crowd as the night seems to declare: it is time to rock.

It is important to understand that at any given point in time there might be three guitars playing at once, and there often are. Their dynamic involves a lot of syncopated melody and dual rhythm, with frequent outbursts of lead – this is as the behest of this-totally-bitchin’-rockstar-from-Mars (as Charlie Sheen’d put it) Ryan Monroe.

Monroe, if he’s got one thing, it’s stage presence. And what a presence he is: he is the only one on stage, hell probably within a 5 mile radius, wearing aviators and a leather jacket. The rest of the band opts for flannel, pedestrian t-shirt, and/or trucker hat (as does frontman Ben Bridwell). Frequently while performing, Monroe will strut the stage like he’s subbing in for Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, leaning on the back of a fellow bandmate, dipping back triumphantly to face the heavens as he rips away at a totally indulgent guitar solo – he doesn’t miss a single rock’n’roll performance cliche, and his embracement of that is totally awesome.

For this show, Band of Horse are eschewing any notion of pretentiousness. Upfront, Bridwell discloses his feelings towards their, teen-soap of yester-year O.C featuring mainstream hit – speaking in that unmistakable Canadian dialect he saysL “There will be no ‘Funeral’ tonight…unless someone dies.” He is lying, we later learn. It is their equivalent of the Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex on Fire’, they know it is what a lot of people will be waiting for and are loathed to disappoint.

Much in step with the aesthetic of their latest album Mirage Rock, the decade rendered is most audibly, and visibly, the seventies. ‘Dumpster World,’s harmonies resemble those of America, and,  like with their other albums, Neil Young’s influence is felt all over, the simple chord progressions and heavy riffing leaving plenty of room for guitar solos. And then there is the song ‘Electric Music’ which feels like it was written just so the Band of Horses could embody The Rolling Stones for a couple minutes each night, what with those honkey-tonk guitars, boogie woogie piano lines (provided by Monroe), and an overall ‘Jumping Jack Flash’ vibe to the whole production.

It becomes quickly evident that this show is not a slow show. There are about as many hard-rockers in the B.O.H. catalogue as their are mellow numbers, and this show is bent on fitting as many of the former in as possible.  When the down-tempo, meandering folk numbers do appear, the centerpoint becomes the harmonies, which unfortunately sound weaker when they appear in faster or newer songs. Flawless and awe-inspiring, however, is the tightness of the instrumentation, the layering of duplicate guitars to create a 12-string, Roger McGuinn style jangle and the breathless momentum of the rhythm section. This all feels derived from the musical comraderie the band has developed, (visible when Bridwell beats his tambourine on the back of Monroe during a vocal break), something that also accounts for the seamlessness of the set, which is inter-stitched with mini jam sessions-turned-transitional segues.

This band is one whose recorded and live output are entirely distinct, and this is a great thing. It provides all the more reason to see them in concert, knowing you aren’t going to get everything you expect; e.g the uber-cathartic/anthemic ‘Islands on the Coast’ from Cease to Begin morphs from into an almost punk song as those wordless ho, ho-o-o, ho-o-o’s become gloating singalong soccer chants. The crowd laps it up.

The visual element appears to be very important to the band – during each song, videos and stills of natural scenery are displayed (from arid deserts and Midwestern canyons, to snowy forests, dilapidated cabins, and native wildlife up North) behind the band, which makes it feel like you are watching some kind of live music video.

The inevitable climax of the night is when the band does play ‘Funeral’, the avoidance of which would incite a veritable mutiny.  The crowd hangs on every lyric, as it quickly becomes a sea of camera phones. And even if the harmonies aren’t what the album’d make them out to be, this crowd couldn’t be happier.