"This is the first time we've ever really done anything like this," proclaimed Band of Horses vocalist Ben Bridwell during he and his bandmates’ Special Acoustic Performance at Carnegie Hall. The indie ensemble chose a hallowed Manhattan theatre -- no hipster haven -- as the venue for its concert Thursday night (June 11), and as a result, its audience was statelier and more reserved than usual. “The place we played last night was just like this, I swear,” Bridwell joked.
Though Band of Horses should be commended for trying an entirely new approach to its live performance, some of its most captivating qualities were lost in this setting, like the tantalizing churn and comforting cradle of its guitars that work so well together to create the band's signature, rich sound.
The set kicked off with “Part One” and followed with "Marry Song," a mellow, country-influenced tune that benefited more than any other from an acoustic reworking. It also benefited from the fiddle playing of Laura Cortese, who, after meeting Bridwell and guitarist Tyler Ramsey at Pete Seeger's 90th Birthday Celebration, was playing live with the band for the first time. Though Bridwell’s vocals appeared shaky on certain high notes during "Part One," his singing was nearly flawless for the remainder of the show.
"Monsters," from Band of Horses’ first album “Everything All The Time,” raised the emotional intensity of the night, as the band created a symphony of intricate harmonies with a banjo, lap steel guitar, washing cymbals, rhythmic fiddle and Bridwell's raw vocals ("If I am lost, it is only for a little while," he sang.) The number received thunderous applause from the audience.
"We have a new record coming soon...I think," announced Bridwell, as the band started to play a new song that seemed to signal a move towards pop for the band. Next came a haunting, slowed-down version of "Wicked Gil," which creaked with fiddle and upright bass, then echoed with tattered drum. During the crowd-pleasing “Funeral,” heavier mallet drumming evoked a tribal sensibility while the stage's backdrop, which resembled the shadows of tree branches on a window, produced a dark film around the band members that contrasted with the light reflecting from their metal instruments.
On its feet for the first time all night, the audience cheered for Bridwell’s and Ramsey’s electric guitars during "Ode to LRC,” the first number of the encore. The frontman’s modesty throughout the show – made apparent by his constant thanking of the audience and seeming reluctance to be front and center – showed up again here, as Bridwell ushered his bandmates to the stage for the fervent vocal melismas of "Detlef Schrempf.”
The instrumental buildup of the final song, “The General Specific,” found the Carnegie crowd at its most engaged, with audience members standing and clapping to the tambourine, yet still not quite grooving to the piano. Though it’s always fascinating to witness a band reinterpret its music through live experimentation, Band of Horses’ acoustic set proved, at times, to be a bit too light for what appeals most about the band to its core fans.
Arbouretum, a folk rock band from Baltimore, Md., opened for Band of Horses with a seated performance of acoustic guitar solos, whirring synthesizers and vocals reminiscent of Fleet Foxes but with a fuller, grungier flavor. The band’s instruments, however, were no match for its male and female vocalists, whose harmonies often propelled each song to its climax.