Words by: Kayceman | Images by: Steven Walter
Band of Horses/The Drones :: 04.17.09 :: Fox Theater :: Oakland, CA
Halfway through the first song I knew. Band of Horses was up there tearing through a triumphant version of "The Great Salt Lake" and I knew this was a different band than the one I saw last. First off, the Horses are quite literally a different band with a relatively new lineup including excellent guitarist-singer Tyler Ramsey (who joined in late 2007 – I guess it's been a while since I've seen them). Ramsey fills the much needed spot BoH co-founder Mat Brooke once did as bandleader Ben Bridwell's sidekick. Bridwell has always been vulnerable (which is definitely part of his appeal) and maybe even lacking a little of the confidence needed to be in the spotlight, but he's developed into a pretty damn good frontman, apparently in no small part due to Ramsey's support. But far more than just new personnel, Band of Horses are a new band in the sense that they have finally grown into their songs.
BoH is a young act. The 2006 debut, Everything All The Time (read the review here), dropped out of nowhere to become one of the most acclaimed albums of the year, and 2007's Cease To Begin made good on the follow-up hype. Bridwell quickly emerged as a songwriter wielding "the touch." There's an argument to be made that these albums are two of the best records released in the past five years (they made my personal Top 5 in their respective years) – but the Horses haven't been able to translate that power to the stage... that is until recently.
With the lineup fleshed out to six people and finally given proper time to gel as a unit (except for Swedish guitarist Ludwig Böss, who was remarkably playing only his second show with BoH in Oakland), this band is now a beast. Confident, muscular, delicate and controlled, Band of Horses is now the complete package. As early as the second song, the anthemic "Is There A Ghost," the Fox Theater was fully under the Horses' spell. After "Weed Party" the band launched into two very different, promising new songs. The first was slower and seemed to need a bit more time in the oven, but the second one came out kicking. Featuring the refrain "You don't need a reason to cry" and wrapped around a dark, sprawling composition that sounded a bit like Muse, this song's a keeper and certainly bodes well for the highly-anticipated next album.
The core of the show came with the tandem of "Ode To LRC" and "The Funeral." Perhaps the best song on each respective album, this was ten seriously amazing minutes of music. Built around peaks and valleys with big chord changes and brilliant writing, these tracks perfectly illustrated what makes Band of Horses so good at what they do. Their strongest moments are when the tempos come down and emotions pull tight, and there is no better example of this than their breakout hit "The Funeral." And when I say "brilliant writing" I'm talking about both the structures of the songs - which will make your body sway - and also the lyrics, which are open enough to attach them to your life but defined enough so they cut to the bone. This is no simple thing, but it's why the sold out crowd of 2,700 people knew every word.
|Ben Bridwell :: 04.17 :: Oakland|
We all have our own connections to the songs, and clearly we all felt it. And it's not really relevant what my experience or my connection with Band of Horses is all about, it's that they are capable of creating those connections with so many people. We all have our baggage. We carry it everywhere we go and often do what we can to hide it, but at some point you need to open up those bags and pull everything out – and for those on the team, Band of Horses rip us open, purging us of all the built-up pain and sorrow.
But, this is no mopey, oh-so-sad indie rock shit. This is a celebration of life delivered with genuine love, massive guitars, highly-textured nuances, a bunch of foot-stomping, some melodica, sweeping keyboard rushes, stop-you-in-your tracks vocal harmonies and grab-your-girl sing-alongs. It's also a punch to the gut that squeezes your heart until tears push out your eyes. It's this dynamic that seals the band to its fans. Making it through the day is a complex cocktail of emotions and Band of Horses meet our varied needs. So, when they take us from the soaring chorus inside "Ode To LRC" ("the world is such a wonderful place") into the dramatic sorrow of "The Funeral" it takes on mythic power because that's the way it really is. Life is not all good, nor is it all bad - it is in fact lived within ups and downs. It's the birth of your sister or son and it's losing your mom or friend. It's the shitty day at work and the amazing night of music that follows. It's taking too much and also remembering not to do it again. It's the extra bit of cash for working overtime and getting fired because of cutbacks. When a band can be the music for all we face – the good the bad and even the ordinary – they seep into our fabric. They become more than just noise on the radio - they become our friends. They carry us when we are weak, spark the joint when we arrive and even slap us around when we're out of line.
Before I go, it would be criminal to not shed some ink for opening band The Drones and for the venue where this all went down. First, the Fox Theater. Seeing this show (or any show for that matter) in what very well may be the best venue in the Bay Area (an honor that's long been held by The Fillmore) elevates the experience greatly. The Fox is unquestionably the most gorgeous room in Northern California, and arguably the nicest theater in America. They spared no expense (literally, the refurbishing cost around $90 million dollars), tricking the place out with a multi-tiered floor creating exceptional sight lines, multiple bars (and you can take your drink anywhere, including the sweet balcony), plush rugs, imported chandeliers, ornate hand-painted finish on every surface, air-conditioned floor, friendly staff and a gut-thumping sound system. When you come to The Bay, The Fox is now the place to play.
|Band of Horses :: 04.17 :: Oakland|
And now, a word about The Drones. This Australian quartet sent a spike through anyone wise enough to get there on time. Ragged and raw in the best of ways, it was punk rock Pink Floyd meets Dylan and The Band with a bag of high-octane blow. Working atop a wall of sound with huge drums, drugged-out rhythms and screaming guitars, it was no surprise they play for packed stadiums back home. When things really opened up, they would push the music into dark spaces that appeared to be swallowing the songs whole, only to re-emerge for another guitar meltdown that at one point even found leader Gareth Liddiard shredding a solo on his knees. While perhaps a bit heavy for those there only to witness the beauty of Band of Horses, if you were ready to submit to the visceral sounds of this bloody attack you were rewarded by rock & roll harkening back to its finest, most stripped-down origins. Towards the end of their too brief set it occurred to me that I would not want to follow The Drones. And what's more, last time I saw BoH, they were definitely not as good as The Drones are now. But, the Horses showed up and they won the crowd after a single song. This night belonged to Band of Horses and they delivered one of the better shows of this young year.
For more on Band of Horses check our exclusive feature/interview with Ben Bridwell here. And for more on The Drones, check our interview from last month here.
Band of Horses tour dates available here.
Continue reading for a few more pics of Band of Horses and The Drones in Oakland...