Band of Horses
Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian
Band of Horses, like Dylan in reverse, has never been afraid to go un-electric.
The group recently left lead singer Ben Bridwell's native South Carolina to support Acoustic at the Ryman, a 10-song live album released Tuesday. (The album is streaming for free on bandofhorses.com and is available for purchase in all the usual places.) The tour, which began in L.A. on Tuesday, continues with a Valentine's Day appearance on Ellen and a show in San Francisco, followed by dates in Seattle, Canada and the East Coast before a put-a-bow-on-it gig at the Ryman in Nashville on March 5th.
While all four of the group's full-length albums include multiple acoustic songs, the tracks re-arranged for Ryman and at the live show sand off some of the Horses' arena-rock edges, relying heavily on Bridwell's voice, Ramsey's guitar, Monroe's piano and the harmonies between all three. While Bridwell's vocal range lands on the same spectrum as the Flaming Lips' Wayne Coyne, the former maintains a steady and pure tone in all of the places the latter slips into trembling chaos, adding grace to the vulnerability that peppers Band of Horses' catalog.
Bridwell took the stage alone for the first song of the night, “St. Augustine,” the final track on 2006's Everything All the Time. Another player appeared for each subsequent song, beginning with guitarist/singer Taylor Ramsey for “Part One,” pianist/mandolinist/guitarist/singer Ryan Monroe for “Bartles + James,” and bassist Bill Reynolds for “Older.” Drummer Creighton Barrett was consigned to the side of the stage for much of the night, but such is life when your band is touring an acoustic album, I guess. Bridwell joked early that the band would keep adding a new member per song through the whole set, finishing the show like “a bunch of Keebler elves.”
The acoustic treatment landed beautifully in the Immanuel Presbyterian Church's Cathedral Sanctuary, though the grandiose architecture and stained glass windows added a sense of formality to a performance that would have been equally suited to a campfire or coffeehouse. The subdued instrumentation filled the cathedral's high ceilings and gave each song a pristine quality that any other venue would be hard-pressed to match, especially when Monroe and Bridwell helped themselves to the church organ above the stage for a playful version of “Detlef Schrempf” from 2007's Cease to Begin.
The Horses made quick work of “The Funeral,” slipping their biggest hit and the song everyone credited to “that Horses band” in 2006 into the middle of the set. The bombastic guitars that gave the original version its indie-epic flair were gone, replaced almost entirely by Monroe's piano, with a sprinkling of acoustic guitar and Reynolds' bowed double bass for flavor. Bridwell introduced it as one that “falls into the 'incredibly risky' category” due to the re-arrangement, but the song drew the loudest cheers of the night and the first of several front-row slow-dances during the 20-song outing.
Pink Mountaintops, in the form of one Stephen McBean, opened the show with little fanfare and even less backup. Armed with pedals and effects that sounded more like Foley noises than music cues – one song started, notably, with wind sounds – McBean took the stage alone, with an acoustic guitar of his own and no band. Better known as the frontman for Canadian rock juggernaut Black Mountain – McBean clearly has a thing for colorful tectonic forces – Pink Mountaintops rolled through a 40-minute set that was light on sing-alongs but sounded fantastic bouncing down from the rafters.
Crowd: A little older than most Wednesday night rock shows, perhaps, but probably quite a bit younger than the Immanuel Presbyterian cathedral's usual occupants. Beer and wine were sold in the foyer but not allowed into the main room, and a peculiar lack of odor seemed to indicate that show-goers smoked up all of their bud before getting to the church. Respect.
Bartles + James
Ode to LRC
Everything's Gonna Be Undone
No One's Gonna Love You
Heartbreak on the 101 w/strings
Is There A Ghost
The General Specific