September 24, 2010
Autumn arrived this past week and so did the summer in San Francisco. The fog and perpetual gray has given way to blue skies, hot days and warm nights. And on a warm autumn night in the Bay Area, there probably isn’t a better venue for a concert than the Greek Theater in Berkeley. After attending an art auction benefit, I quickly galloped (OK, it’s obligatory to include one, but that’s the last horse reference) across the Bay Bridge to catch Band of Horses last night.
While I really enjoyed the show - Band of Horses sounds to me like a combination of the Eagles and Coldplay - the only criticism that I have is that the songs simply were not that great. The last few shows that I have seen have particularly prompted me to reflect on the craft of song writing. Seems like a basic requirement for musical success, but so many bands today are just in pursuit of a certain ‘sound’ and don’t seem to spend too much energy on melody, a decent hook and thoughtful lyrics. This is the same complaint that I have leveled against Dave Matthews among others. After listening to Band of Horses canter through their set of more than 20 songs, just one, Laredo, was left in my head as I trotted home (really, that’s the last one).
Band of Horses has received quite a lot of critical praise for their sonic Western sound which is quite pleasant, but shows how critics have also forgotten about the need for a good song. BOH sounds like what you would think the West should sound like in 2010 - open, plaintive, dusty, nostalgic, soaring yet mellow (almost restrained) – the sound washes over you. And in case you didn’t get it on Saturday night, there were scenes of the West projected behind the band on the Greek Theater’s white walls and pillars: falling snow, mountain trees, amber waves of grain, and waterfalls (while singing about waterfalls in the song “Older”). And the bassist, Bill, who traded guitars every song, had a feather poking up from the tuning plugs of each guitar. Very Thoreau. But, I would have preferred for the band to mix it up a bit more. Many of the songs were note for note the same as their studio recordings, many quite short and ended just as they started to become interesting. Still, somehow, it all worked despite the lack of memorable hooks and the slightly pedestrian staging.
The band’s leader, Ben Bridwell, is an excellent and expressive singer and has decent stage presence and each member of the band played their part well. I just felt there was a creative spark in the middle missing that could really take BOH over the top. It was a very good, very solid performance from a talented band that is missing one ingredient from becoming really, really, really good.