Band of Horses continue their acoustic experiments in Somerville
By NICK TAVARES
STATIC and FEEDBACK Editor
Ben Bridwell walked out to the center of a cluttered stage, dressed in a jacket and white shirt, with an acoustic guitar strapped around him, said hello, and immediately began a hushed solo rendition of “St. Augustine.” With nothing more than his guitar and the natural echo of the ancient Somerville Theater, he had the crowd on its collective ear and a concert unlike most was on.
To just call this Band of Horses acoustic show intimate would not properly convey just how close the audience was drawn to the band. “Intimate” has been used in music circles to describe anything with an acoustic guitar or any venue under 5,000 capacity. This went beyond that; the band was relaxed and comfortable, the audience focused and engaged, and there was a warmth that wrapped the two.
The band is on the road to promote their live Acoustic at the Ryman album, recorded in the midst of their tour for Mirage Rock when they turned their two-night stand at the historic Nashville venue into an acoustic experiment. But this time around, there was something a little more assured in the execution than is displayed on the record. The quiet intensity of “Detlef Schrempf” was better conveyed in person that on vinyl, and the interplay of Bridwell, Tyler Ramsey and Ryan Monroe during “Part One” gave the song the communal vibe of a midnight revival.
The stage, beyond the coffee tables, rugs and lamps that created a living room approximation, left the band sitting in a semicircle and fully able to call out changes or cues to each other. A single mic was set up mid set for the band (minus drummer Creighton Barrett) to play “Evening Kitchen,” “Older” and “Weed Party” truly unplugged and busker style.
“This is just like how we do it at home,” Bridwell said early on. “I dress up like a teacher, no one talks between songs…”
Band members hopped between instruments, joked between songs and even took cues from the crowd on the setlist, tossing a version of J.J. Cale’s “Thirteen Days” late into the show. And opener (and former bandmate) Sera Cahoone set the stage with a lively, engaging set that got the crowd ready for a night of hushed, haunting music and prepped them for some antics, notably leading the audience in a sing-along wishing her guitarist, J. Kardong, a happy birthday.
It was in the midst of all this that it became obvious the common tag of “intimate” would fall short in describing how interesting and innovative all this was. In dialing back all of the electric arrangements and openly experimenting with how songs could sound — perhaps a piano on this song tonight, maybe a mandolin on it tomorrow — Band of Horses has taken an important step in their development. As they make sense of their back catalog with seemingly obvious intentions to keep the train moving, they’ve opened themselves up to limitless avenues in the future. They already have a cosmic electric sound that, if not totally unique to them, certainly gives their music an original stamp.
Now they’ve been able to master dialing all the electricity back to primordial wooden instruments, a few strings and maybe some keys, two drumheads and a single crash, a few rugs, some tables, a lamp. All the re-arranging has given the songs new facets to their personality, and the ramifications of all this will likely be felt years down the line, making future shows and records even more interesting.
But the future’s the future. The present, which is now the past, has the band turning their catalog upside down and letting the natural vulnerability of their compositions shine through. If Acoustic at the Ryman is a pleasant compilation of their songs in skeletal form, the shows on the tour supporting it are evidence of the band blossoming. The record is nice; the show is an experience that goes beyond intimate.
Email Nick Tavares at firstname.lastname@example.org