Concert review: Band of Horses at House of Blues, Orlando

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Therein lies my complaint with the Orlando show: I’m comparing it to their 2008 appearance at the Cuban Club in Tampa. I had fairly low expectations for that show, thinking it was going to be a mellow performance by a band with a few decent songs and enough of My Morning Jacket’s influence to warrant taking a chance. I was certainly not expecting to be COMPLETELY blown away by their live act. The crowd had suffered through a miserably rainy night, and an even more miserable opening set from Kimya Dawson (of Juno soundtrack infamy), to be rewarded with Bridwell and crew playing their hearts out. They gave us raw energy, piercing vocals, and contagious enthusiasm, which was only enhanced by the rough quality of the sound equipment.


I came to Orlando expecting the same delivery from the band, and was sorely disappointed. As in Tampa, we still had to suffer through an inappropriately matched opening act: Josh Roberts and the Hinges. They should be really be playing shows at traditional country music festivals, as their sound is likely to be appreciated by those sort of fans than by the preppy college kids who filled House of Blues.


Band of Horses put on a technically-perfect show. They were polished, confident, and came across like a band that has certainly earned their place onstage at a venue of this stature. Their set was filled with favorites off their first two albums, like “Funeral,” “No One’s Gonna Love You,” and “The Great Salt Lake,” which all had the audience singing loud enough in drunken, off-key wailing to nearly drown out Bridwell; another unfortunate side effect of mass appeal. They also played a lot of material off Infinite Arms, including “Compliments,” “Northwest Apartment,” “Factory,” and “Older.”  Unfortunately, the entire performance felt somewhat like Infinite Arms itself, dull and flat with brief moments of shining clarity.


Band of Horses is quite simply a different band now, one headed towards an even greater level of mainstream recognition and mass appeal, which of course, makes money. In this case, it also seems to mean removing what was most appealing about Band of Horses in the first place.

I really hate when a band gets too big for its britches.

I realize that music is an industry, and like all other business endeavors, it's all about making money. Music is different, however, because it is so dependent upon an intensely personal visceral connection to the artist. Entirely too frequently, once mainstream listeners take possession of a band, the pressure is on to produce music that delivers Everything All the Time, to EVERYONE all the time. In my opinion, it nearly always homogenizes the outstanding elements that originally attracted the band’s core group of fans to a point where their sound becomes, at best, boring, and at worst, nearly unrecognizable.

Which leads me to the too-big-for-its-britches tirade you’re about to read: Band of Horses has recently switched from an indie label, Sub Pop, to mega-conglomerate Columbia Records, and the changes are evident in every move they are making. Their new album, Infinite Arms, is due for release May 18; and they have recently begun a summer tour in support (including a slew of dates opening for Pearl Jam). Their performance at the House of Blues, Orlando, on Thursday, April 29, was about three weeks into this new tour. Even the choice of venue, a glorified amusement park attraction with bathroom attendants and cocktail waitresses, offers evidence of their new status as a major label recording artists. [Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell pictured right, photo from the Meredith Festival in Australia courtesy of the band's Myspace.]

The band is calling Infinite Arms their first collaborative release, with all current touring members of the band providing input on songwriting, and in some cases, lead vocals. However, for a group effort, I find this record has none of the simple charm of guitarist Tyler Ramsey’s solo releases, or even the sense of melancholy that lead vocalist/guitarist Bridwell’s earlier band, Carissa’s Weird, delivers. It certainly has very little of the electric, explosive, heart-wrenching alt-country that made fans fall in love with Band of Horses to begin with. True, there are some outstanding moments — “Compliments” and “Northwest Apartment” are instantly catchy, and “Bartles + James” picks up unexpectedly into loveliness at its conclusion. Unfortunately, most of the rest of the album is bland and forgettable, at least in comparison to what Band of Horses gave us on Everything All the Time and Cease to Begin.

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