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A typical miserable Tuesday night at the beginning of February, but the light at the end of the tunnel is Oxford Road where indie rock outfit, Band of Horses are playing their melodic brand of Americana to a packed Academy. Along with Fleet Foxes, the North Carolina quintet have probably made the biggest ripple in the U.K’s more folk tinged consciousness over the last few years. This is a strange relationship for me as I really shouldn’t like Band of Horses and do regard them in some ways as a guilty pleasure.  They come across on occasions as being slightly bland, but that vocal, the harmonies and those melodies just keep drawing me back. I’m interested to hear how the sometimes, slightly sugary sound transfer to the live arena and hopefully this will give them a harder edge. 

First up though are Goldheart Assembly, who are no slouches themselves when it comes to well constructed melodic tunes and harmonious vocals as their album “Wolves and Thieves” testifies.  I arrived half way through the first song, which sounded unfamiliar so assume this was a new tune to open with. From  gorgeous second track “Anvil”  however, the band are into the slower tempo side of the album, which continues with ”Last Decade” and “So Long St Christopher” before a brilliant version of the more upbeat “King of Rome.”  They end a short set with the majestic “Engravers Daughter”  building from the strains of a single guitar, through a country influenced piece of perfect pop into full rock out. 

It sounded as though there were a few people in the audience who had bought tickets especially to see Goldheart Assembly tonight and hopefully they will have also picked up a few new fans with their performance. This is an excellent live band, who have a strong, personable rapport with the crowd and would be well worth the price of a headline ticket.

The main support came from Mojave 3, who Ben Bridwell, Band of Horses lead singer, claims are one of his all time favourite bands and a major influence on his musical career. Born out of “Slowdive” who were part of the shoe gazing scene in the early 90’s and there was still the occasional element in their music, with in particular, one inspired psychedelic guitar wig out. The overall sound however is more country based and while being pleasant enough, after a couple of songs did start to drift over my head.

And so the tension starts to mount, the crowd swells and we await the headliners.  After what seems an interminable time, the lights go down to the obligatory cheer and the band walk on to the strains of Bruce Springsteen’s “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” looking like extras from The Deliverance, which seems totally at odds with the lush sound of their recorded work.  It’s also a slightly muted start as they open with an unfamiliar song and then move into “Islands on the Coast” during which Bridwell’s time keeping in particular, seems a touch shaky.  It’s then apparent that the band were just warming up when “NW Apt” kicks in and they move into top gear as do the audience, losing their inhibitions and starting to sing along.   

This is a crowd pleasing set with all the songs you hoped the band would play being blasted out to the absolute delight of the crowd. “General Specific” keeps up the pace as does “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands” being quickly followed by “Is There a Ghost.” We’re then treated to a quartet of Horses classics, with “Laredo,” “Marry Song,” “Factory” and “Compliments” all being delivered in succession 

A couple of covers are included amongst the original material, “The End’s Not Near” and “Dirty Work” which is introduced as De Jour of the Day with an accompanying film projected on the back drop of the stage.  De Jour is a tour project where a member of either Band of Horses or Mojave 3, pick a different cover to play each night.  Members of the support act join Bridwell and company for an excellent run through of the Steely Dan song, much to everyone’s delight on stage.  This is also a major factor of the performance throughout, as the band play with a genuine camaraderie and obvious enjoyment and there’s never a smile far away wherever you look on the stage. 

Ben Bridwell in particular appears to be living the dream and hardly seems able to believe the position he‘s found himself in with adoring fans all around.  He’s absolutely buzzing, I’m sure just from the atmosphere created by the Mancunian gathering, which might explain the occasional glitch and the cries of “We love you band of horses” are reciprocated in kind.  Bridwell is a natural performer and draws your attention to the centre of the stage but that’s not to say the rest of the band don’t play their part and Tyler Ramsey in particular shows some wonderful touches on the lead guitar, probably best exemplified when just himself and Bridwell are left on stage for a captivating version of “Evening Kitchen.”  

The key for me tonight, is that while on record Band of Horses has a very lush, almost orchestral feel to their latest album in particular, live they are a dirty rock n roll band, which is just how it should be and as if to prove it, the main set ends with a storming “The Funeral .“ A slight criticism could be that the impetus is lost in the encores with “Detlef Schrempf, “ a Mojave 3 song “Yer Feet” with Neil Halstead joining Bridwell on shared vocals and  “Monsters” being slightly strange choices, but these guys aren’t up there to conform in any way, shape or form, so perhaps we should applaud not only a fantastic gig, but their individuality.

Set List

Islands on the Coast
NW Apt
General Specific
The Ends Not Near
Cigarettes, Wedding Bands
Is There a Ghost
The Great Salt Lake
Marry Song
Dirty Work
Evening Kitchen
The First Song
No One’s Gonna Love You
Ode to LRC
The Funeral
Detlef Schrempf
Yer Feet

Review and photos by Andy Barnes 

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