Band of Horses
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Monday nights in January really weren't made for anything else other than sitting in front of the television whilst trying to keep warm. The longest, quietest month of the year falling conveniently in line with the post-Christmas comedown, there's a feeling about live music in January akin to that of a pre-season friendly or mid-term revision break. The calm before February's incessant storm where staying in becomes a last resort when the pennies run out, it could be seen by many as little more than a warm-up exercise for the tiresome year ahead where touring, writing and recording represents one's day-to-day existence.
Not that Band Of Horses would dream of anything other than treating every show as if it were to be their last. Indeed, the past eight months has been something of an arduous journey around the world since the release of album number three Infinite Arms in May of last year. While their last appearance here in August at the Leeds Festival was perhaps usurped by the hysteria surrounding The Libertines brief re-union and Axl Rose's petulance, their ascendancy in stature as one of America's biggest exports is evident by tonight's sold-out show, one of many on this short UK venture, with ticket touts outside the venue quoting ridiculously inflated prices.
Tonight's early start time means DiS misses the first part of openers Goldheart Assembly's set. While there's no doubting these guys can play, it all seems a little....predictable, and even the enthusiastic dancing of a lone punter at the front struggles to alter the opinion that this is little more than Mumford & Sons by numbers.
The long-awaited return of Neil Halstead and Mojave 3 proves infinitely better, even though several onlookers stand around scratching their chins at the excitable concoction of countrified folk and reverb-laden histrionics taking place on stage. Although their set was far too short, we hear rousing renditions of 'She's All Up Above' and 'Puzzles Like You' not to mention a dazzling trawl through 'When You're Drifting', (with Band Of Horses' Ben Bridwell making a cameo appearance on melodica). Although there are no plans to make a new record as yet, let's hope these dates rekindle Mojave 3's creative juices as it's been far too long since their last recorded output.
With the venue now at bursting point, there's an undeniable buzz surrounding what, up until last year, was one of alternative Americana's best kept secrets. Cast members of Emmerdale and Hollyoaks rub shoulders with bearded ATP veterans and latecomers schooled by Kings Of Leon's earliest musical exertions but left floundering by the execrable Only By The Night and Come Around Sundown. It's a mix and match crowd but one that exemplifies Band Of Horses obvious crossover potential.
As Bridwell and guitarist Tyler Ramsey take the stage, the frontman teasingly announcing they're playing as an acoustic two-piece this evening before the other three band members arrive amidst a halo of feedback, 'Ode To LRC' kicks things off in blistering fashion. With rumours persisting that a new record may be on the way in 2011, it's little surprise that Band Of Horses play a couple of new songs this evening, one of which Bridwell announces as "the best song we've ever written", the other strangely reminiscent of The Wonder Stuff in their more fiddle friendly Hup days.
While 'Factory' and 'Compliments' represent a more honed, mature direction, it's the material from its predecessor Cease To Begin that draws the biggest response. 'Is There A Ghost' and 'The General Specific' both resonate with a cautious intensity far outweighing their recorded counterparts, while 'Cigarettes, Wedding Bands' causes two excitable young girls in front of the stage to throw pints of beer in the air and mosh as if they're at Download, only to be removed by Security for their troubles.
Even their decision to play a Townes Van Zandt cover over the likes of 'Island On The Coast' (sadly omitted this evening) doesn't disappoint, while 'Older' is sung back in unison by 1500+ hardy souls to Bridwell and co's unabated amazement. Returning for a three-song encore, Bridwell and Ramsey duet on a poignant 'Evening Kitchen' before 'No One's Gonna Love You' and 'The Funeral' bring tonight's proceedings to a tumultuous climax. As the house lights flicker to signal their subsequent departure, the cries of "More!" from several hundred punters suggests their next excursion to these shores may well be in sparser, less intimate confines. However, with such an increasingly extensive and consistent back catalogue in their lockers, one can't begrudge them one iota of the commercial success they richly deserve.
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