“We’re embarrassingly big fans of Band of Horses,” laughed Ricky Young, frontman of opening act Wild Feathers. The admission drew huge cheers from those in the Ogden Theatre crowd, none of whom seemed at all reticent to show enthusiasm for the beloved Seattle headliner of the Saturday, August 13, show.
While there’s no great mystery behind any given fan’s adoration for their artist of choice, Band of Horses foments a certain kind of big-hearted loyalty that isn’t easily replicated. Their 2006 debut, Everything All of the Time, was able to cut through the surrounding noise with a warm, emotionally earnest sound that set them apart from the saccharine balladry of so many contemporaries. Ben Bridwell, the band’s lead singer and emotional marrow, quickly became known for his unwavering humbleness and gratitude, a temperament that never felt put on for commercial gain.
A decade has now passed since that first record, and despite a few artistic missteps along the way, the Ogden show was a pointed reminder that the band hasn’t lost the bright-eyed sincerity that once turned so many heads.
Shortly before the quintet materialized, a contemplative piano ballad — Debussy lite — played to an empty stage, building anticipation for an already highly anticipated entrance (one woman claimed she’d driven twelve hours from North Dakota just to see this show). Always choosing the kinder route over rock-star aloofness, Bridwell and company didn’t wait long before walking on and diving right into “Monsters,” an upbeat clanger off Everything. Next was “On My Way Home,” which had Bridwell ripping into his lap steel guitar and thumping his foot at hummingbird speed. “Thank y’all,” Bridwell said between songs, his South Carolina upbringing peeking through in his best moments. “Thank y’all so much.”
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Along with a black open-collar tee and simple jeans, Bridwell wore a baseball cap, presumably just so he could head-bang it off during “The Great Salt Lake,” a high-powered single from their early days. In the two hours to come, the hat rarely kept still as the band sustained an impressive amount of energy throughout the 23-song set, which marked their third back-to-back Colorado show. The ambitious schedule is to promote their recently released fifth album, Why Are You OK, which, while not exactly a return to form, is a welcome departure from 2012’s hollow, all-filler-no-killer Mirage Rock. The new songs are more playful, the energy rarely dissipating, and lyrically, the record finds Bridwell in a different headspace, his priorities shuffled, as he is now the father of four.
Band of Horses was never the most consistent group. Over the years, the quality of the music has fluctuated almost as much as the lineup, which underwent major overhauls during the first leg of the band’s career. But the five musicians holding court at the Ogden demonstrated the kind of give-and-take camaraderie seen in the best ensembles. From left to right, and growing progressively more bearded along the way, was the most longstanding lineup Band of Horses has ever had, beginning with keyboardist Ryan Monroe and culminating in Tyler Ramsay, guitar-wielding mountain man.
There was banter (“Anyone know any Pantera songs?”), dueling guitar solos and a few tender moments, as when Monroe cautiously plucked out an improvised piano melody between songs while Bridwell encouraged him to finish, nodding along in near fatherly approval. The deft musical muscle memory supercharging the band’s back catalogue translated well to new material, which was well received by the audience.
Why Are You OK’s first single, the riff-heavy “Casual Party,” inspired scattered clumps of excited dancing, and “In a Drawer’s” soft/loud dynamic kept the energy at crackling heights. Older classics, such as “Is There a Ghost?” and “The Funeral,” summoned the elated cries of recognition (and relief) you’d come to expect from a band whose bigger hits were clustered in their early days, but Bridwell’s soaring tenor, almost child-like in its nakedness, gave the songs new life. “Anything to make you smile,” he sings on “No One’s Gonna Love You,” and, corny as it may be, the 38-year-old crooner made it his mission to ensure that there was no shortage of happy faces that night.