As the rain finally submitted to the will of the eager crowd Saturday, Band of Horses quietly shuffled up to the Cuban Club patio bandshell in Ybor City. The headliner at Skatepark of Tampa's weekend-long Pro Party (which also included a performance by Kimya Dawson), the Mt. Pleasant, S.C., six-piece emphasize crisp melodies and vocals drenched in reverb, a combination that has put them in the upper echelon of indie roots music alongside acts like Dr. Dog. Band of Horses channeled country-leaning classic rock like Neil Young and The Band with back-porch harmonies and mellow arrangements as they shepherded the audience through nearly every track from their latest album, Cease to Begin. Rather than obscure their live performance with improvisatory experimentation, Band of Horses reproduced near carbon copies of their recordings, with guitarist/lead vocalist Ben Bridwell belting out humanistic proclamations like "The world is such a wonderful place" in what may be the most haunting voice since My Morning Jacket's Jim James.
Although Band of Horses' songs began to sound similar to one another and overly strummy — despite the lineup of three electric guitars — the band opted for heartfelt verses over pretentious solos and came off as sincere songwriters/performers. Highlights included the thumping bass of "Islands on the Coast," the rollicking chorus of "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands" and "No One's Gonna Love You" — probably the best track on Cease To Begin.
"This is our fake last song," said Bridwell, acknowledging the practice of bogus finales. To everyone's delight, Band of Horses returned within minutes of exiting the stage to deliver six more tunes and end the evening on a positive note.
"Thank you very much. It feels good," Bridwell announced to the waterlogged but grateful multitudes. —JK
You'd think a lone performer with nothing but a busted-up acoustic guitar and a clutch of "message" songs wouldn't stand a chance in front of an all-ages skater crowd squeezed together in the rain. Especially when a sizable chunk of that audience wasn't necessarily waiting for her — 30something folkie and married mother Kimya Dawson — but huddled near the front of the Cuban Club patio stage for the indie act of the moment, headliner Band of Horses. The obscure-singer-songwriter-turned-Juno-kinda-star won over the audience, though, with witty songs about suburban ennui, politics and self-image issues delivered in an endearing, talky vocal style. Plus, she exuded plenty of coffee-shop charisma.
Dawson appeared genuinely surprised by the crowd's enthusiasm when she took the stage at 9:10 p.m., more than an hour late due to the weather. While she performed, the rain came down in a steady drizzle — sometimes harder.
"Wow, you guys are crazy," said a bemused Dawson. "I feel bad under here while you guys get wet."
Despite the dreary conditions, a significant portion of the crowd of reportedly 2,500-plus braved the wetness for Dawson's quirky tales. The performer wore her hair in a big, unruly 'fro, had on a grey hoodie and cut-off, floral-print shorts. Basically, she looked like many of the tweenage concertgoers gazing up her and screaming: "I love you!" Dawson, who is a gifted lyricist, surveys some extremely dark subject matter — drugs, alcohol, sexual harassment, suicide — but laces her songs about "how living in a small town sucks ass" with just enough juvenile and absurdist humor not to scare away the kids who shop at Hot Topic.
The parents in attendance? Maybe they didn't notice. But one mom did look concerned when Dawson mentioned cocaine in a song, and it received such a loud, positive reaction from one concertgoer that the singer giggled midsong and had to start the verse again. For the finale, Dawson invited young female audience members on stage to dance. While they grinned and twirled blissfully, the folkie smiled and sang: "Fuck Bush and fuck this war." —WT