The evening augurs well with the impressive Israel Nash serenading an already substantial crowd with his marque of tough but sweet country soul. Flanked by the very able Eric Swanson on pedal steel, they produce a nicely balanced sound, stepping through highlights in ‘Rexanimarum’, ‘Parlour Song’ and ‘LA Lately’. His full-bodied voice and the swelling tones and fluid, sinuous pedal lines are extremely well received and the sense was of new fans appearing by musical osmosis left, right and centre.
“Hey, we’re gonna start out mellow…work into a groove…feel that shit”. Band of Horses are as good as their word. Opening a month-long tour that will take them across northern Europe, Czechia and Scandinavia with the stately pleasure of ‘Dull Times / The Moon’ they draw in a full Vicar Street with a lingering, lush heartbeat of a tune. It’s an impressive feat of controlled kinetic energy but five minutes in the dam breaks and waves of euphoric guitar, drums and vocals wash over the crowd. This is immediately followed by a rapturous, crashing ‘Cigarettes, Wedding Bands’ from 2007’s Cease to Begin and ‘Compliments’ and ‘Laredo’ from Infinite Arms. It’s noticeable, as they reach into the deep pockets of their back catalogue, that they are punching through tunes, flexing muscles for the long road and so, at this point, there is little stage chatter. When the band do come up for air – on ‘Marry Song’ and a limber, hip-swaying ‘Casual Party’ – they sound on rare form, gleefully pouring reserves of energy into each song.
After this the band departs and a solo Ben Bridwell holds the audience rapt for an affecting ‘St. Augustine’. Bridwell re-introduces his bandmates with an aw-shucks “Hey look, it’s Ryan and Tyler from Band of Horses” and three huddle round a single mike with acoustics and a mandolin for a spellbinding ‘Part One’. The ecstatic roars that greet its conclusion seem to trigger something intangible in the band and from there on in they’re untouchable. Alternating windmill drums and soaring Weld-esque twin leads with Help-era harmonies and a bass tone that somehow manages to be both svelte and rotund they swash and buckle though the next six tunes with a mellotron-heavy ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ approaching the transcendental.
But the best is yet to come. These here southern boys know how to programme themselves a setlist. They “close” the gig with a rousing, swinging, boogie-woogie ‘The General Specific’ with extra percussion courtesy of Bridwell and the sweetly sung admonition to reviewers everywhere that “What the writers say, it means shit to me now”. And – after a brief, mutually-agreed, no-harm no-foul hiatus – the band return to properly slay the audience with a euphoric ‘Is there a Ghost’ and with lusty audience assistance, they end on a sky-scraping ‘The Funeral’. This is the real reason why we come to gigs – to hear the minor variances that tell you yes, real, living, walking around like you and me, human beings can make this absolutely glorious a noise.
Band of Horses photographed for State by Olga Kuzmenko