Live: Band of Horses at the Masonic Temple, 02.14.08


photos by Rebecca Smeyne

Band of Horses
Brooklyn Masonic Temple
February 14th, 2008

I’ve been kind of bummed out lately, which means I’ve been even pickier than usual about what music I listen to. At the moment, I’ve been serving myself a steady diet of sad vocals and slamming guitars, preferably played fucking loud: Dinosaur Jr.; Shocking Pinks; some Ride (I’m not gonna lie); that kind of thing. Similarly, The Funeral‘s been charging hard up my most-played list, which meant last night’s Band of Horses show at the Masonic Temple should’ve gone down like a dream. It didn’t. Part of the blame for that has to go to the venue, a category that includes the people inside. Maybe I was in a bad spot, but for most of the show, I found myself surrounded by non-stop gabby gabbers. Seriously, why go to a show if you want to talk the whole time? There are better places to have a conversation about the relative merits of Momofuku Noodle Bar Vs. Momofuku Ssam Bar. Yes, I’m talking to you, guy in the “Too Duck to Frunk” T-shirt. Also, some jackass inexplicably threw beer in a stranger’s face and I caught some ricochet action. That was annoying.

But you can’t blame a band for its crowd. Nor can you really fault Band of Horses for the fact the Masonic Temple is a sonic dead zone. I don’t know if it was the high ceilings, the room’s weird horseshoe shape, or the fact that any place so keenly reminiscent of my high school’s gymnatorium is bound to be brimming with bad mojo, but the sound just sort of hovered near the stage when it should have filled the room (shoegaze-y openers Dirty On Purpose also struggled with this). And it was nowhere near loud enough. Still, despite the sub-prime acoustics and annoying audience antics, some of blame for the show’s overall “meh”-ness has to go to the hirsute South Carolinians. Simply put, dudes put on a flat show.

Lined up two beards and three guitars strong across the stage, Ben Bridwell and his fellow horsemen sounded pretty much exactly like their digital selves. But the band’s bag of crescendo tricks—rendered with such detailed, precise production on their albums—didn’t work so well live. Frankly, I’m not sure that this is a band that benefits from close attention. Riding the subway or working at your desk, stately slowies like “The Great Salt Lake” and rise-and-fall epics like “The Funeral” and “Is There a Ghost” shine with a gorgeous boreal glow, the sound a warmly psychedelic soundtrack. But live, when the band becomes the whole movie, the faults of those same songs are amplified. Bridwell doesn’t range too far afield with either his melodies or words, both of which tend towards diffuse cliché. There’s no denying the goosebumps that arose when the band hit the guitars hard on, yes, “The Funeral,” and Bridwell’s hick Perry Farrell yelp nicely conveys stoned desperation, but it wasn’t enough to make up for a dearth of dynamic variety and songwriting detail. About 20 minutes in, some it’s-all-the-same-song ennui was already creeping up.

The one cover the band played, a spooky take on JJ Cale’s “Thirteen Days,” highlighted the difference between songwriters (like Cale) and moodmakers (BoH). Cale’s song, with its finely wrought life-on-the-road lyrics and elegant, winding melody, shows you something unfamiliar every time you hear it. BoH’s music takes you somewhere, but it doesn’t show you around. And on Thursday night, my shoes wet with IPA, my iPod offering up more vivid sound, and my newfound knowledge of what not to order at a chichi noodle bar, I wasn’t much for staying at the same old places.

photos by Rebecca Smeyne