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January 28, 2008
When the announcement came of Mat Brooke's departure from Seattle indie standouts Band of Horses in the summer of 2006, I was skeptical that the band could retain the distinctive charm that dominated their fantastic debut, Everything All The Time. Ben Bridwell's voice, oft-compared to that of My Morning Jacket's Jim James, remains one of the strongest of the current crop of indie rock frontmen, and the group is still capable of writing gorgeous pop songs - but with Brooke gone, the acoustic minimalism of "St. Augustine" and "Part One" that balanced the grandeur of "The Great Salt Lake" on their debut seemed to disappear with their sophomore release, Cease To Begin. With Brooke's resignation, at some point in the summer of 2006 Band of Horses became a band wholly helmed by Ben Bridwell, with a steadily rotating cast of musicians (sporting the requisite awe-inspiring facial hair) in support as he set out to rock the world. After seeing the group live, I'm still not completely convinced that the band's transformation was fully a good thing, but I can now certainly understand the strategy behind it.

In fact, if you are reading this article and you possess a truly great set of whiskers, there is a reasonably good chance that you are or were in fact a member of Band of Horses. There were that many men chugging through the prime of the group's set at The Paradise in Boston last week. The scale of the Horses' attack is impressive, their arsenal complete with keyboards, almost a dozen guitars, a permanent on-stage roadie, and consistently no less than three guitarists and a grand total of seven bros on stage at any time. All ribbing aside however, from the opening strokes of "Is There A Ghost" that rang through the performance space at around 10 PM, it was clear that the approach serves the group well in a live setting.


The strongest moments from the Horses' two albums (both issued by local powerhouse Sub Pop) can pin a listener to the floor with their grandeur, and when a veritable army of agreeable guys in denim and cowboy boots deliver them in the flesh, it's tough not to like the bunch. For however much confusion might be felt as to the band's identity without Brooke - prior to walking through the doors of The Paradise I wasn't sure what to expect - it was clear by about half-way through their performance that Band of Horses have set their sights on becoming a Creedence Clearwater Revival for a new, hipper, post-millennium generation, a sentiment verified by the jubilantly performed cover that closed the night; and given the rousing renditions of "Weed Party" and "The General Specific," I'd say they've come pretty darn close thus far to earning the title.


The chemistry between the Horses' various players throughout the night was a bit surprising, given the length of time (read: lack thereof) that they've probably played together in this manifestation. Bridwell seemed at ease at the band's fore, perfectly comfortable sharing the spotlight with his colleagues, playing originals that didn't appear on either the group's debut or sophomore releases as a full band and giving guitarist Tyler Ramsey the opportunity to open the night with a batch of solo, mainly instrumental pieces. The set allowed Ramsey to display his obvious gifts as a musician in his own unassuming way and helped prove him to be a natural fit for the Band of Horses franchise, inspiring a hope that he remains a member in some capacity for many years to come.

Above all, even more than the music, it was genuinely fascinating to observe the disparate kinds of people in the crowd that Band of Horses drew. In that way perhaps more than any other they have truly become disciples of CCR - great uniters of taste, appealing to everyone from counterculture indie snobs to country folk raised on whole milk to dirt-rock fanatics to a smattering of average college kids standing doe-eyed and neutral in the midst of them all. Judging the room by everything between the doors and the stage, the night seemed more like a peace conference between warring allegiances than a rock show, or perhaps the type of diverse gaggle any American politician stumping on "healing a divided nation" could hope to see at a rally, and I can assure you that when "The Funeral" finally kicked in at the close of the Horses' main set, everyone in the room went completely bonkers, in unison. And you can also be assured that it was something beautiful to behold.



SEE ALSO: www.bandofhorses.com
SEE ALSO: www.subpop.com

--
Dave Toropov
Introduced to music in the womb with a pair of headphones on his mother's stomach, Dave Toropov has yet to recover the experience. A writer based in Boston and New York, he has also written for Prefix Magazine and What Was It Anyway, and is the maintainer of the "Middleclass Haunt" blog.

See other articles by Dave Toropov.

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