Photo: James Berry
Since their inception in 2004, Band of Horses must have been going through one of the longest transitional periods in music history. Shedding all but founder member Ben Bridwell after first album ‘Everything All The Time’, musicians drifted in and out of the band for the next few years, and the line-up of five that appears at Brixton Academy tonight was only settled shortly before recording third and most recent record, ‘Infinite Arms’. The changes in direction and sound that such upheaval inevitably bring are all too apparent here this evening.
At one time, Bridwell swung between modelling himself on Dave Grohl, complete with rasping voice and crunchy riffing, and writing the sort of soft rock that American audiences like to hear during the closing credits of the latest Hollywood weepie. It is the current staff, perhaps most notably Ryan Monroe, who shares vocal and songwriting duties with Bridwell, who have finally persuaded him into a subtler, more considered direction.
Tonight’s opener is a gig-goers dream. Bridwell and finger-picking guitarist Tyler Ramsey take to the stage alone and perform ‘Evening Kitchen’ off the latest album, Ramsey gently plucking an acoustic guitar and the pair of them singing sweet harmony into the same microphone. The audience is bowled over before the night is five minutes old.
From there though, the contrasts are marked. There is clearly a huge following for the earlier, soft rock type material – Brixton Academy is packed to the back doors tonight, with swathes of American female twentysomethings holding their arms aloft for most of the gig – but it feels almost as if the audience is divided in two, with one section of the crowd getting pumped up for the harmony-heavy, country rock sound of the ‘Infinite Arms’ tracks and standing through the rest, with the other section doing the exact opposite.
Still, no one is left with much to complain about. The chugging riffs of ‘NW Apt’ sound more powerful than ever, and there are heavy punches in ‘Factory’ that the recorded version keeps concealed. ‘The Great Salt Lake’ from the first album, meanwhile, and especially ‘Cigarettes, Wedding Bands’ from ‘Cease To Begin’, show newcomers that the back catalogue isn’t to be avoided altogether, while the likes of ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’, ‘The Funeral’ and ‘Is There A Ghost?’ keep the lighter-waving contingent more than happy.
The Monroe-penned ‘Older’ perhaps provides the crossover for the more longstanding fans, containing as it does a country riff and some understated harmonies, but tonight includes an audience sing along a capella at the end.
There is also time to get Neil Halstead of excellent support band Mojave 3 out to do a number, and to unveil a new track, which on first listen appears to sound unlike any of their previous material.
Whether Band of Horses’ paradigm shift will prove as divisive as, say, the likes of Kings of Leon, is yet to be seen. Unlike the Followills, however, most music devotees would argue that at least they are shifting in the right direction.