To my knowledge, there isn’t a more earnest rock band right now than Band of Horses. At a glance, they don’t look special: a few bearded dudes in flannel who managed to rise to the top of the Seattle rock scene, presented to the rest of the world as open-country-lovin, whiskey-sippin rock n’ roll boys. They couldn’t appear more accessible, or less surprising.
But the Michigan Theater was sold out on Monday night for a reason. This is Ann Arbor, remember, where any old pack of mainstream-adored guitar wailers can’t just show up and sell out a 1700-seat venue. Band of Horses play rock that resonates – even with three guitars cranked to full volume alongside crashing symbols, there’s a sweet sentiment behind the noise at all times. It’s a big city sound with a small town heart.
This sound is defined in large by Ben Bridwell’s voice. He can make shouting sound peaceful, and he communicates heartache and empathy with a sort of wistful-eyed hopefulness. He can make the line “at every occasion, I’ll be ready for a funeral” sound liberating, and when he sings “watch how you treat every living soul,” it’s actually softly convicting rather than cheeky or contrived.
The show began with Bridwell and guitarist Tyler Reynolds performing a softer version of “Ode to LRC” in a stream of blue lighting. The other three band members joined in after a couple minutes, and the song evolved into a room-filling anthem that set the tone for the rest of the night.
The band didn’t spend much time talking, focused on maintaining smooth transitions between songs. When Bridwell did address the crowd, I had trouble understanding what he was saying (except when he said “It’s our first show ever in Ann Arbor, man.”). They focused solely on the music, which sounded amazing – especially in the Michigan Theater. Their set drew from all four of their albums, with the songs “Laredo,” “No One’s Gonna Love You” and “Cigarettes Wedding Bands” generating the most excitement.
I should mention that almost everyone was seated. After the first few songs you could start to feel an awkward energy rising from the aisles, and small pockets of excited rebels began to stand with their arms up. One brave girl made a run to the stage, and once people realized there was no one there to cart her off, the center aisles filled with people following her lead. Then it became a rock concert.
The energy from the crowd provided more fuel for the band, who already seemed on full-steam. They’re a loud band, but they’re far from just a noise-making rock act – creative melodies and tight interplay between members create for a majestic volume. Even at their quiet moments, you feel they’re teetering on the edge of a mountain.
The set lasted over 90 minutes with an encore. It was great to see this energetic band with a loud, atmospheric sound perform in a venue like the Michigan Theater, and I think everyone who was there hopes this happens again.