Band of Horses, Sounding Rough as a Barnyard

The performance by Band of Horses at the 9:30 club did not match the skill displayed in their recordings.
The performance by Band of Horses at the 9:30 club did not match the skill displayed in their recordings. (Sub Pop Records)

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Monday, November 5, 2007

"What the writers say/means [expletive] to me now," sang Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell at the 9:30 club very early Saturday morning. Couplets like that don't necessarily make the South Carolina (via Seattle) outfit a critics' favorite -- their stately, gospel-and-country-flecked indie rock does that. Scribes in the up-late (the set began at 1:15 a.m.) capacity crowd probably went home disappointed, however, given that the Horses played indifferently, exhibiting little of the finesse evident on their recordings.

Officially a trio, BOH performed as a six-piece band, powering through the 70-minute set with, at times, three electric guitars stoking the sound. Bridwell's distinctive tenor often strained to compete with the clamor, noticeably cracking during "Is There a Ghost." When the Horses stomped the hardest -- "Ode to LRC," "Islands on the Coast," "Monsters" -- a whiff of circa-'75 Marshall Tucker Band was evident, not an altogether bad thing, just not very interesting. It didn't help that two highlights from their first record were handled brusquely: "The Great Salt Lake" was plowed over and "The Funeral" trudged through.

Indifference didn't swamp everything, though, and when BOH calmed the guitars, Bridwell's voice resonated and their singular shimmer surfaced. Both "Marry Song" and "Our Swords" had a haunting sheen, while "The General Specific" was the show's best rocker, with Bridwell's tambourine lead suggesting how they might succeed at Southern rock. No matter where they head, however, the Horses would be wise to rein in their penchant for onstage guitar bluster.

-- Patrick Foster


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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