It was evident from the outset that Seattle founded folk rock group Band of Horses put a lot of thought into their special acoustic gig at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre in Los Angeles on Tuesday night. The show took place the same day that their live album Acoustic at The Ryman was released.
It wasn’t a case of the band simply playing songs from their catalog with acoustic guitars. Some songs were arranged completely differently as to lend themselves to the format better than they would have. The opening song of their 19-song set, “Neighbor”, set the tone, as three of the band mates harmonized beautifully over nothing but a piano.
The band’s on-stage camaraderie carried them well as they chopped it up between songs as they found the right tunings and figured out the timing of some of the songs on the fly. They didn’t sound unprepared so much as they sounded nervous in wanting to achieve total mastery of their performance, of which they did.
As someone who wasn’t completely familiar with the band’s back catalog, it was interesting to take it in sitting next to a super fan who snatched the last vinyl copy of the new album from the merch table. There were certain songs he admitted to not being a fan of the studio recording that he dug completely in this setting, such as “Slow Cruel Hands of Time“.
One of the highlights from the set was the beautiful track “St. Augustine”, where lead man Ben Bridwell took the stage on his own. I remember thinking Bridwell sounded very Don Henley in the way the Hall of Fame rocker did on his more stripped down recordings.
The band was also very fluid in mixing up who was playing on what songs, as some songs were scaled back a bit while others, such as “Weed Party”, had the whole clan on stage banging through a song that would’ve fit perfectly in a memorable house party.
The band’s most recognizable track, “The Funeral”, closed the band’s encore. It actually turned out to be the one song that didn’t fit the theme as well as the others. Bridwell’s vocals lend itself to the studio track much better, where the emotion of his singing matches the building to the crescendo. In concert, the track was saved by the bass build-up, which sounded incredible coming out of the double bass.
The crowd in attendance was extremely respectful of the quiet nature of the show and you could have heard a pin drop if you listened closely enough. The Wilshire Ebell lended itself greatly to the setup, and one can only hope more of these types of shows take place due to the great sound of the acoustics.
For die-hard fans, the show gave new life to songs they’ve been hearing dating back to their first release, 2004’s Everything All the Time, while also giving new replay value to some of the more recent songs that new fans have been playing through on repeat.
Admittedly, I’m a sucker for these acoustic shows, but more often than not, a band or artist falls short of my expectations. Band of Horses surpassed them, due to the obvious effort they put into making it a special and memorable night.
Words: Mark E. Ortega
Photography: Tamea Agle