Band of Horses
Since I came across Band of Horses albums I wanted to catch them live in a small venue. I was pretty sure they were going to be big.
This guess become a certainty after their recent show in London.
When a band publishes 2 albums in 2 years, the brilliant Everything all the time and Cease to Begin (both published by SubPop), that sum up 20 songs in just over an hour and then can play 90 minutes of breathtaking music, you are in front of a great band.
In this mp3 age where having a decent single makes at least one music magazine cover, Band of Horses can deliver a succession of anthems to please their audience from the very first moment until the last encore.
You are justified to skip these guys only if you can’t stand Ben Bridwell high voice.
If you tolerate his singing, plunge yourself into their sounds and you’ll find another proof that rock is (a)live and kicking.
Neil Young is an obvious influence, from the tone of voice to a sound that bring you back to Zuma-era Crazy Horse, he must be a recurring presence on the band official i-pod playlist.
By the way, I still have to find a band that has a southern, country American rock sound and can count Neil Young out of their list of myspace friends.
To make the music fresher and tastier Band of Horses get also some of their inspiration in the new American psychedelia readapting the dreamy futuristic musicscapes of Flaming Lips and My Morning Jacket to the authentic landscapes that they have seen on their way back home crossing the country from the North West to their South Carolina.
Play the CDs while observing the beautiful Christopher Wilson photographs coming with the booklets and you will understand what synergy between music and images means.
This inspired mix is adapted to our times via the new vein of North American rock handled in a clever way.
The band handcraft walls of sound, orchestral arrangements and loose moments of improvisation that emphasize the sensation of crossing wide spaces but, differently from Canadian cousins, they achieve this using standard electric guitars without the need of unconvincing folk instruments.
We are NOT in the Arcade Fire land even if, curiously, one of their best song is titled Funeral as one of Arcade’s best moment. Fact is that these folks are much more down to heart and they haven’t used a word such as “Bible” in the following release.
As a clear example of confidence, the London concert opens with most recent and famous hit Is There a Ghost.
Few second into the song, laid-back countryside America materializes in London. Beards, long hair, hats, boots, flannel shirts and blue jeans burnt in the sun…smell of dust and, of course, horses.
On Koko’s stage Ben Bridwell leads a quite impressive ensemble.
Band official line-up became a trio after the original founder, Matt Broke, left to pursue his personal project with Grand Archives, however the stage tonight is occupied by six musicians. In addition to the original guitar/bass/drums, there are 2 more guitars and a keyboard.
This helped to build up their extensive sound, Bridwell can concentrate on his peculiar voice and also be cruel to a pedal steel guitar on a couple of songs, creating such an escalation of unforgiving sound during The First Song which you’ll never expect to come from such an instrument.
The grandiosity of a song as Great Salt Lake shines live; the instant of silence before the chorus erupts it’s so long that creates an impatience waiting to evolve in a liberating outburst of enthusiasm that you will sing along.
All through the set I have been surprised by the strength of their songs, it gives the impression that latest is their best, than another and another again emerge in an relentless progression.
It was since the National gig that I haven’t been as excited about a live band.
I am aware this is not my best set of pictures, it is not nice to justify oneself, but I wanted so much to talk about Band of Horses that I sacrificed my renowned pickiness on the image selection to put this text online.
That something was going to be wrong was clear from the beginning. The two support acts played without any security attending. As a consequence the audience felt free to push the barriers reducing the dept of the photographers’ pit from 2 meters to less than 50 cm. We (quite a few) were squeezed between the stage and the adoring crowd. The only way out was to jump the barrier in a surf-crowd attempt. Quite challenging holding you camera bag!
The worst was arriving. Few seconds into the set I understood it wasn’t an easy one. The guys must not love photographers, fact is they spent the whole gig including the first three songs playing with very strong backlights, no front lights. Bridwell also wore a baseball cap.
Basically, to have a photo you need two main things: a decent source of light and a balance between dark and clear zones. No film (and no CCD so far) can compensate for huge differences of lights and give you an image with details all around.
At Koko we didn’t have a single light illuminating the singer and the backlights were too strong. Consequence… these are the pictures I could get.
If you have better suggestion I’d be happy to follow you, comment is free.
Ah, of course flash was strictly forbidden and the security now arrived to watch over us.
So this is the time for some post-production tricks.
Exasperating the contrast can deliver nice graphic images out of unappealing shots.
It is straightforward to do with photoshop. You choose a picture with differences between dark zones and high lights and shift the contrast/brightness cursors up and down until you are satisfied. You can also play around with the levels if you are after something in particular. It is very easy.
In a darkroom is longer but, if you are familiar with the technique, it’s not much more complicate. You want to experiment different exposure times with multicontrast paper exposed through filter number 5.
Give it a go, it could be very rewarding, most people will like your prints (guaranteed) because the graphic unrevealing effect that a black OR white image has leaves space for the viewers’ imagination.
The secret of most catching images are the ones that subtract information and leave you with questions, because you end up hooked into them looking for the answer!