CMJ: Band of Horses at the Bowery Ballroom


A/K/A Sub Pop Had a Showcase

If the author had been one of the people snapping blurry photos, this wouldn’t be a Band of Horses photo from McCarren Park Pool. Just sayin’.
photo by Rebecca Smeyne

The Brunettes + Band of Horses
Bowery Ballroom
Day 5: Oct 20

By Michael D. Ayers

By the fifth day, CMJ might have taken its collective toll on everyone; The Brunettes were playing a perfectly harmless set of New Zealand style jangle-pop (which is quite similar to all other jangle pop you might like), and I noticed in the corner a guy with a badge. Sitting down. Reading a book. It looked like a novel; there was no dust jacket, but the hardback looked new. He was devouring it, and seemed annoyed that he was working, or on call, or whatever it is that this particular badger was doing. Okay, I get that one would leave a show because he/she is really into a book, and the band on stage just isn’t doing it, but I had never seen anyone read during a band’s performance. At least not at the Bowery Ballroom. Yeesh.

Yet in a rather sad way, I think The Brunettes got the same feeling from a lot of everyone, just staring at them, probably exhausted, hungover, and generally tired of being out, surrounded by exhausted, hungover people such as themselves. Towards the end, they said something to the effect of “the band you want to see will be up next.” At least that’s what I think I heard; again I was in the back of the room, competing with other people’s various forms of not caring.

Okay, so The Brunettes really didn’t help their cause out, by doing band introductions to a reworked version of the “The Banana Song.” If you don’t remember, that’s the song you’re parents used to sing to you to bother you. The real name of that song, is “The Name Song,” so I guess it works with telling the audience who the band is, but, whatever. It was kinda dumb. I’m sure their core-audience, a.k.a. non-industry types would eat up that cutesy-pie diversion, but not us/them. Maybe that’s what made them sad, or at least have that realization that this gig might suck.

Cut away all that, The Brunettes are nothing amazing, but they have fun, they believe in themselves, and have a guy that will play the triangle for an entire song. That should be worth something, right? Standing there, I remembered that I had made a special point in 2005 to see them open for The Shins at Webster Hall. Incessant Internet chatter told me that this band was one to watch for, but I thought they were lame back then. They’ve gotten less lame since then, adding some relatively interesting changes within their song arrangements; the girl / guy vocal thing also works well, and they seem to be using a tradeoff mechanism more than I recalled. But above all, you gotta believe in the tunes you’re writing, and even before a crowd that seemed thoroughly annoyed at existing, The Brunettes plowed through anyways, hiding what was surely to be an exasperating *sigh*. I mean their music isn’t bad bad bo-bad, fee-fi fo fad.

Before I get into Band of Horses highlights, what has also been rather interesting to me about them was that video that circulated this summer of a gig where lead Horse guy Ben Bridwell went off on someone in the front row filming him to their somehow minor hit, “Funeral.” If you didn’t see it, don’t worry, he said he was sorry, but has pointed out the numerous instances of needing to document every little instance at a club concert, not to necessarily remember it (which is why you tend to record as an amateur), but instead use the documentation, that homemade media, for the spread to mass audiences- rendering the whole purpose of being at the show and capturing it for your own self, secondary. I get that, and to a degree, it does bother me when people are constantly snapping blurry photo after photo. How many times will you look at that? I often wonder.

On the other hand, I was interviewing Black Mountain a few weeks ago about their current tour, and how they’re playing songs from a forthcoming record. They told me how a lot of the people coming to their gigs are doing the same thing, but in essence, if they’re giving them free (and shitty) plugs, then maybe when the record does come out, they’ll be more motivated to buy the superior sounding product/recording/art work/data file. I see that perspective too, and had never thought of it like that.

So at a media heavy crowd such as CMJ, I wondered if ol’ Ben was going to be okay with cameras, both amateur and professional, being pointed at him for most of the night. And lo and behold, he was. Which means to me, that one Youtube video could carry a reputation with it that’s probably just an overly exaggerated form through hyperlinks and some embedding code. He definitely didn’t seem like the evil dude I saw this summer.

I thought a freak out could happen during the first song, the gorgeous track “Monsters.” He looked down at someone in the front row, bugged his eyes out a bit, and begun to flick his tongue in a way that, well, insinuates good oral skills. It seemed a bit crass, but maybe he knew the person and was just being silly. Or was suggesting a different sort of after party. Who knows. That was the only odd thing he managed to do, and for the most part, was very gracious throughout the night.

I was talking with a colleague, and we both agreed that above all, Band of Horses sounded very full. They’ve expanded their line up over the years, to include five or six people on stage. It’s grand sounding, moody, southern laced rock that has Bridwell trading off the pedal steel for a sweet looking double guitar, and his high, whiny voice sounds crystal clear with everything else going on around him.

So, they played about all the songs they could, dipping into both albums heavily. Their music isn’t revolutionary by any means, but it has the Bridwell’s southern charm that makes his sweet songs sound sweet, his rock songs sound fiery. Overall, he doesn’t seem like the a-hole that the Youtube video made him out to be.

Band of Horses plays Terminal 5 on November 4th. Guess you can bring your cameras?