Band of Horses + Israel Nash, Birmingham 02 Institute – live review

Photo by Matthew Danser.

Band of Horses + Israel Nash

Birmingham 02 Institute

Monday 20 February

Singer-songwriter Israel Nash is a wounded soul. With his sandpaper growl and lank blond locks, he’s a troubled troubadour that soon gets the swelling Birmingham audience sharing his pain. Backed only by his acoustic and an eerily behatted pedal steel player, the act wears a little thin by the end of the set, but by this point he’s already won the crowd over, even if we’re applauding his sorrow.

“We’re called Band of Horses, because of our name,” deadpans frontman Ben Bridwell as the Seattle-born five-piece take to the stage. Bar this and a few ‘aw, shucks’-style thank yous, however, BoH mostly let the songs do the talking. It’s a good move, as their setlist is a rich compendium of their Sub Pop classics, their major label barnstormers (bar the unloved bombast of 2012’s Mirage Rock) and new cuts.

They open with ‘Dull Times / The Moon’, the closest the group have gotten to prog rock, as Bridwell laments his life as a father-of-four amid writing a record. Bleeding from an atmospheric shrug into a jagged rocker, this zeal soon careens straight into the arms-aloft earnestness of ‘The Great Salt Lake’.

Band of Horses’ new album, Why Are You OK?, saw Bridwell feel, once more, comfortable in his abilities, crafting songs that blend melancholic regret with bristling rock. ‘Solemn Oath’ and ‘Throw My Mess’ are rollicking jangles, ‘Casual Party’ soars with its fizzing guitar motif and the sweetly nostalgic ‘In A Drawer’ may not have its scene-stealing J Mascis cameo, but it has a volatility that was missing on record.

The beauty of BoH is their ability to shift gears with little effort, one of the reasons they achieved indie stardom so swiftly. A number of tracks are taken from their 2010 major-label debut Infinite Arms, including the bittersweet, breezy ‘Dilly’, the Foo Fighters-esque ‘Compliments’, the contemplative melodies of ‘Laredo’ and, even better, the aching country jangle of ‘Older’.

It’s when Bridwell and co reach deep into their Sub Pop days do they rustle the biggest cheers, however. ‘Islands in the Coast’ and ‘The General Specific’ are thrilling stabs of rock, the urgent ‘Is There A Ghost’ is still an arena-ready anthem, while the echo-laden coda that greets the crushing ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ ushers some of the biggest cheers.

“Can’t get out of here alive without playing this one,” chuckles Bridwell to himself, ironically, as he begins the twinkling intro to ‘The Funeral’, the group’s everlasting calling card. As the five-piece convivially exit the stage, they leave a brimming Birmingham audience in collective mourning.

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