Band of Horses seem surprised to see a few thousand people out on a cold Monday night, patiently waiting for them to raise their instruments and grace us with ninety minutes of their down-home, roots infused, authentic Americana. They’re not taken aback for long though and they soon channel the slight shock into enthusiastic opener ‘On My Way Back Home’.
It’s pleasing to see the five-piece all beaming smiles and intent on having a good time, no matter how far down melancholy lane some of the tracks will go. Band of Horses are riding high in the UK at the moment. They’ve been around for years of course, garnering a solid fan base alongside the likes of My Morning Jacket and Fleet Foxes, but now, four albums in, they are making bigger waves. Tonight’s show follows an appearance on ‘Later... with Jools Holland’ where they gave a good account of themselves, and judging by the hordes of hooky t-shirt and hoodie vendors outside the venue, they’re steadily accruing more and more fans.
And so they should. They have all the necessary elements to be worthy of being massive. A curious backstory – formerly homeless frontman Ben Bridwell living out a rags to redemption story – an obvious group bond with bags of bonhomie between them (Bridwell takes time out to hug each band member throughout the set), and most importantly, album after album of golden songs, full of emotional investment, with neither fluff nor filler.
After two critically, if not quite commercially, acclaimed albums on Sub Pop (‘Everything All the Time’ and ‘Cease to Begin’) they are now on major label Columbia and have notched up more sales with 2010's Grammy-nominated ‘Infinite Arms’ and this year’s ‘Mirage Rock’. They dip into all four albums tonight, the newer songs showcasing a bolder, ballsier, rock edge. New song ‘A Little Biblical’ even throws a welcome chunk of early Teenage Fanclub into the mix and is all the better for it. The extensive touring that has accompanied the major label signing has seen them master the pace of a decent gig with a simple but brilliantly effective visual show. They raise the roof with treasured classics such as ‘The Great Salt Lake’ and the epic ‘The Funeral’ and then take the atmosphere right down with a gossamer delicate rendition of the heartfelt ‘No One's Gonna Love You’, all played within an illustrated and photographic backdrop of beautiful landscapes projected onto a vast screen behind them. One minute they’re blasting out ‘Ode to LRC’ atop some snow-capped mountains, the next they’re chanting “Is there a ghost in my house?” floating in an inky moonlit sky.
There’s no doubting the sincerity of this band, and whether they take you on a wistful, bittersweet journey in one song, or shoot your spirits up with an optimistic barnstormer in another, it always feels like a rewarding ride.
Words and photos by Nick Rice