Band of Horses Goes Acoustic: Concert Review

Kyleen James
Modern folk melodies fill a cavernous venue. 

The five-piece alt-rock group paraded through unplugged renditions of material drawn from their first four albums during a set at L.A.'s Immanuel Presbyterian.

"Every song we’re going to add somebody until there’s like 30 people up here," quietly joked Ben Bridwell. The lead singer of Band of Horses had taken the stage at the Cathedral Sanctuary at the cavernous Immanuel Presbyterian on Wednesday night and started playing "St. Augustine" on acoustic guitar as if it were a practice session. With a new instrument added during each of the first five songs, eventually the space was filled with the recognizable sound of the band.

The Sanctuary -- which hosted multi-instrumentalist Andrew Bird in December -- has acoustics built to accommodate soaring jams, organ-driven hymns and worship rock. But on Wednesday, with pew rows in the 1,700+ seat venue packed with twenty- and thirty-somethings, the church accommodated modern acoustic folk music that wouldn't be out of place at a comfortable dive bar. 

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The band gathered together to harmonize on "Neighbor" (which includes some saloon-style piano work), picked up the pace during "Marry Song" and elicited whoops from the audience during "Ode to the LRC," one of the standout tracks from 2007’s Cease to Begin. They also put a booming pipe organ to  use during a rendition of "Detlef Schrempf."

This was Band of Horses second concert in their latest tour, which has lined up 15 dates in February and early March in support of their newly released live compilation album, Acoustic at the Ryman (Feb. 11). The band has four full-length studio albums, with the set drawing its material from all of the releases. There were minimal production frills at the venue other than a glaring spotlight shining on Bridwell, guitarist Tyler Ramsey and the group for the majority of the hour and a half set. 

It was during the ninth song of the evening, "The Funeral" -- a track whose lyrics "at every occasion, I'll be ready for the funeral" seemed haunting given the formal church setting -- that the set had settled into more intimate material. During the song, one couple stood and made their way to the center of the Sanctuary, only a few rows back from the band, to slow-dance until the song hit its crescendo. They politely zigzagged back to their seats just as the song ended. 

"No One's Gonna Love You," the slow-burning song that closed the first portion of the set, seemed to be positioned as a pre-Valentines Day ballad. "We’re doing this song on The Ellen DeGeneres Show tomorrow," Bridwell explained, adding that the show would be taped Thursday for, appropriately, an airing on Feb. 14. 

Beginning with the encore, the band added a string section with members from L.A.’s The Section Quartet (whose contributions were featured on Band of Horses 2012 album Mirage Rock). The lovelorn “Heartbreak on the 101,” in particular, benefited enormously from the shuddering strings. The rousing anthem "Is There a Ghost" reverberated into the rafters of the Sanctuary, and the set closed with "Laredo" and the entire audience standing to clap along with a tambourine-playing Bridwell for "The General Specific."

Set List:

St. Augustine
Pt. One
Marry Song
Ode to LRC
For Annabelle
The Funeral
Evening Kitchen
Detlef Schrempf
Everything’s Gonna Be Undone
Weed Party
Long Vows
No One’s Gonna Love You


Heartbreak 101
Is There A Ghost
The General Specific