Band of Horses gave new definition to the concept of "guitar army" at Higher Ground on August 9th‚ but they didn't relegate themselves to standard instrumentation or approach the predictable during the course of their hour-plus set. Rather‚ the Seattle-rooted‚ now Southern-based band ended up brandishing the banjo twice and performing a tune with two electric basses and drums (!). This idiosyncrasy only hinted at a versatility that should allow them to eventually play sets twice as long as this. No doubt that would please an audience like the one in attendance this evening who would've gladly stayed for hours more music.
In the wake of the departure of founding member Matthew Brook‚ the Horses' lineup has expanded to six members‚ who all play a significant role in the sound of the group. Both rhythm guitarists‚ James Hampton and Robin Peringe‚ play a different style-not to mention different makes-of guitar at any given time‚ while titular leader Ben Bridwell fits in and around them with his own quirky playing. There are no solos to speak of when this band plays‚ which would explain why virtually no tune exceeded four minutes except the slightly tongue-in-cheek final encore.
Keyboardist Ryan Monroe was nevertheless more than a little prominent as the set progressed; his piano and organ fills as tasteful and to the point as the background sounds he supplied. There's a certain level of restraint in the way Band of Horses play that prevents them from overt showmanship or showboating: when the guitars swing‚ it's a sign the man playing it has gone a level deeper‚ immersed in the music.
Genial and ingratiating‚ almost but not quite goofy‚ Bridwell restricts the instrumental versatility he displayed on the group's debut album to a couple turns on pedal steel. Yet the stark‚ lonesome tones he coaxes from the instrument are a far cry from the soft-at-the-center sounds that reside on much modern (and old-school Nashville) country music.
All the musicianship in play here remains fairly rudimentary‚ but Band of Horses thrive on a spirit of commitment to the material and their audience (the group could hardly have been more gracious and grateful in their acceptance of the crowd's enthusiasm). When the band covered ex-Faces/current Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood's "Mystifies Me‚" they suggested that their roots are deeper and the band more knowledgeable than their Seattle stereotype and attendant links would allow; remember that city is the home of Hendrix as well as grunge music pioneer label Sub Pop.
There is no hidden agenda at work here any more than there is an undue polish to the music or the group's stage presence. When Bridwell announced a song to be included on their forthcoming album‚ due October 9th‚ he went on to say the band had hardly (if ever) rehearsed it. By introducing it in this way‚ he effectively undercut the drama of the performance and further won over his listeners.
The attendees filled the Higher Ground Lounge and contained pockets of frenzy from stage-front to far corner. Next time Band of Horses come to Vermont they may well fill the larger of the two rooms at the South Burlington venue‚ and whether promoted as such or not‚ be a truly hot ticket.
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