A classic stripped-down record in the vein of Neil Young’s Live at Massey Hall 1971 or Nirvana’s MTV Unplugged in New York does feel like a conceit right up Band Of Horses’ street. Last year’s lavish Mirage Rock album -their fourth – was made in conjunction with veteran Eagles/The Who/Faces producer Glyn Johns and underpinned the group’s steady streamlining from plaid-clad, beardy indie-rock middleweights into aspiring 70s-flavoured AOR merchants.
This career-spanning effort serves as the ideal vehicle for singer Ben Bridwell’s impressive vocal range. Performing at a venue that once hosted the iconic long-running Grand Ole Opry show, the band do seem slightly in awe of their venerable surroundings. They certainly never get too chatty here, with Bridwell limiting himself to an occasional aww-shucks ‘Thanks y’all!’ or similar.
Still, that voice of his is a quite remarkable instrument. “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” and “Neighbor” provide a platform for some succulent Crosby, Stills & Nash-style vocal harmonies, whilst “Detlef Schrempf” (named in honour of a former German-born NBA star, oddly enough) is the type of skyscraping arena-ballad Kings of Leon would kill for. ‘”Wicked Gill”, introduced simply as ‘an old song’ is virtually unrecognisable from its original full-band incarnation.
“The Funeral”, Band of Horses’ first single from 2006’s Everything All the Time and their multiple ad-licensed breakthrough track, receives the biggest cheer of the set. The original version detonated with explosive guitars a third of the way through; here it glides along on stately piano chords, the ultimate encapsulation of Band of Horses’ transition from noisy Sub Pop upstarts into purveyors of sleek, honey-coated Americana.