Friday Night: Band of Horses at the Greek Theatre

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SF Weekly photographer Richard Haick was mugged -- and all his photo gear taken -- while walking through Berkeley on the way to Friday's show. So this isn't a picture of Band of Horses playing at the Greek Theatre.
Band of Horses 
Darker My Love 
Admiral Radley 
 September 24, 2010 
@ The Greek Theatre 

Better than: the studio versions.

One reason to check in on Band of Horses now is to address the question of whether they should be put out to pasture -- and whether, if so, that's even a bad thing. Friday's show at the Greek in Berkeley was a friendly revel of casual grazing.

Early on, kids trickled in disinterestedly to crisp retro-psych pop from anterior opener Darker My Love. The concrete was hot on our backs. As usual at the Greek, with its bluntly terraced stadium seating, what the venue lacked in comfort it made up for in pastoral college-town charm: the just-rightness of scale, the mingled temperate-air smells of weed smoke and eucalyptus, the sun decorously descending behind the Campanile.

Second opener Admiral Radley -- a love child of Earlimart and Grandaddy, in the sense that it combines members of those bands, evidently lovingly -- got our attention with the sprightly title cut from its debut LP I Heart California. After which the procession of Admiral Radley songs, enjoyable in its own right, also served as a primer on the Band of Horses bag of tricks. We got the cutely abbreviated candor of "GNDN" ("It goes nowhere and it does nothing," indeed), the flange-braised sound slab of "Red Curbs," the loping minor waltz of "I Left U Cuz I Luft U." We got stoked for the headliners.

The crowd swelled to a few thousand. In addition to an undergrad contingent decidedly not yet ready to be back in school, there were older folks of varied hipness, united in palpable consensus that tonight was just such a nice night for an outdoor show. We wanted, and we got, something more comforting than challenging: an hour and a half of Band of Horses' southern-accented genteel lite rock with a stubble of indie cred, capped by the trebly peals of frontman Ben Bridwell's reverb-ventilated tenor. 

This night's sampler of the band's three records -- Everything All the Time, Cease to Begin, and the recent Infinite Arms -- had many satisfactions to offer, and only a few nagging suggestions of superfluity and sameness. Maybe a couple of numbers could have been cut, but it would be hard to say which. They all sound better live. 

"It's such an honor to be playing in this beautiful spot for you guys," Bridwell told the crowd sincerely, coming off the cool groove of "Compliments." The response was mutually sincere applause. Later, after "Laredo," he added, "This is fun as hell, ya'll. Thank you so much!" 

Our pleasure. It felt good to hear these songs puffing themselves up with guitar fuzz, great voice harmonies, the wash of Creighton Barrett's cymbals, and Ryan Monroe's gradually volcanic organ warmth. All the while bassist Bill Reynolds sprung up and down and scuttled around the stage like he was in a punk band. At about two thirds of the way in to the evening, Bridwell brightened up Kris Kristofferson's "Just The Other Side of Nowhere" by singing it at least an octave higher than the original. Later on, during the tossing of the glo-sticks, guitarist-singer Tyler Ramsey somehow found himself holding a rubber chicken. 

"Our fake last song," as Bridwell called it, was a cover of Them Two's "Am I A Good Man," a welcome blues infusion and a useful platform for player identifications and quick quasi solos. Everyone was feeling good.

Grandly, they closed it out with a victory lap around the chord-quadrangle chorus of that archly mournful crypto-anthem "The Funeral," the big BOH single and Pitchfork's 67th greatest song of the decade, long favored by producers of TV shows and commercials, not to mention 22-year-old girls of all ages and genders. There were neighs of approval. 

Critic's Notebook

Personal bias: related affection for all the other famous bands of things -- outsiders, brothers, etc. 

Overheard in the crowd: "He's really good with kids, by the way. I'm just saying." 

Overheard on Twitter: "It's infuriating how polite the dudes of Band of Horses are." 

Setlist: 
Ode to LRC 
Wicked Gil 
NW Apt. 
The Great Salt Lake 
Is There a Ghost 
Blue Beard 
Compliments 
Cigarettes, Wedding Bands 
Factory 
Marry Song Laredo 
Detlef Schrempf 
Just The Other Side of Nowhere (by Kris Kristofferson) 
Part One 
Older 
Weed Party 
Islands on the Coast 
The General Specific 
Am I A Good Man (by Them Two)
---
Evening Kitchen 
(Happy Birthday, to drummer Creighton Barrett's "future bride," Erin) 
No One's Gonna Love You 
The Funeral

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