Band of Horses at The Olympia on 14th November 2012

This is Band of Horses‘ 10th night on stage in a row but you’d have no idea by looking at them. They play a set of over twenty songs over the course of two hours and do it all with such reckless joy that you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was a much younger band. Band of Horses are not a young band by any means. Touring their 4th and latest album ‘Mirage Rock’ gives them a huge variety of songs to choose from. Their singles rarely chart but their albums have gained critical acclaim (and a Grammy nod along the way). Their success is marked by enthusiastic, sold-out crowds like tonight.

The stage set-up is minimalistic at best. A large projection on the back wall is as extravagant as these lads get, but they don’t need gimmicks, their show relies on good old-fashioned hard graft. Enthusiasm is the order of the day.

Touring a new album, you’d expect the set to be front loaded with new songs but the even split between albums is perfect. Frontman Ben Bridwell sends the crowd into an early frenzy by coming out and announcing that they’re going to start with some old stuff as they kick off with The Great Salt Lake. The majority of the set consists of Band of Horses’ mid-tempo take on southern rock with songs like Weed Party, Laredo and Blue Beard where the drums are both interesting and straight to the point, the guitars chime and Bridwell’s vocals are drenched in reverb.

The mid-tempo numbers are broken up with the heavier additions to the set. Heavy is a loose term for Band of Horses. They’re quite gentle in their approach so maybe we’ll call them the songs with a bit more bite. The country-punk NW Apt., the urgent Wicked Gil and the cascading Cigarettes, Wedding Bands are all additions to this category.

Tonight’s highlights however come from the gentler songs. Blue Beard is the first of the breakaway, tender songs. Halfway through, Bridwell knocks over his microphone stand to which a startled roadie runs out to retrieve it. As the roadie makes his way back to the side of the stage, he’s dragged into a hug by Bridwell who makes him sing along for a moment. A touching moment that showcases the camaraderie between band and crew. A starry night cathedral scene is shown in the background for Infinite Arms, a song so fragile you fear it could shatter at any second.

The entire venue goes still for the start of The Funeral. The opening riff shimmers and dissipates like gentle ripples on a still, dark lake. That same stillness is abruptly interrupted when the rest of the band come in for the chugging heavy section. The Funeral is what a betting man would put his money on for highlight of the night but it was upstaged not long after by something very unexpected.

The lights still dimmed from the encore break, a spotlight illuminated one of the Olympia’s coveted boxes to show Bridwell and guitarist Tyler Ramsey crammed in with a single microphone and a single acoustic guitar for a two song stripped back encore of Evening Kitchen and No One’s Gonna Love You. Two men, one guitar, one microphone and one hell of a sing along. The minimalistic set-up was all it took to unite the sold-out crowd for an encore that can only be described as beautiful. All the while Bridwell grins like a child at the reaction they’re getting.

No less than a few seconds after the pair finish the balcony portion of the set are our eyes drawn back to the stage as the rest of the band start to jam before kicking into Electric Music. The final few songs fail to reach the same peaks as the balcony sing along but that’s not for want of trying from the band. With that, some two hours after they first came out on stage, we leave the Olympia with utter conviction that no other show here will ever come close to what we’ve just witnessed.

Band of Horses Photo Gallery

Photos: Kieran Frost