Band of Horses Bring Acoustic/Electric Double-Dip To Buffalo’s Ballroom

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It’s quite a rare circumstance when a band or solo act with some musical clout decides to revisit Western NY within the same calendar year. Younger groups trying to make a name for themselves or beloved jam bands often return on different coast-to-coast legs given their aggressive touring schedules, but it’s always a pleasant surprise to see established acts of differing genres drop by for a second showing.

Enter South Carolina’s own alt-rocker outfit Band of Horses, who’s limited run of haunting acoustic shows took them through Ithaca’s State Theatre (along with opener Sera Cahoone) back in February. This time the Horses (paired up with the band Midlake) brought their full electric setup to a sold-out crowd in Buffalo’s Town Ballroom this week, and the results as they so often say, did not disappoint.

While the Town Ballroom isn’t exactly a marquee venue dripping with the backstory of the aforementioned State Theatre or Buffalo’s own Shea’s for example, it’s a fine hole in the wall that pairs off compatibly with the smaller intimacy of The Tralf (another music spot located just down the street). And while I wouldn’t exactly call the packaged sardine feel of the standing room only crowd “intimate”, everyone behaved themselves for the most part and allowed the best aspect of these smaller settings to truly shine through. Namely, an unadulterated connection to the music on stage.

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And that kicked off with Midlake, who’s normally more electric-oriented lineup was stripped down in favor of a trio made up of acoustic guitars and a keyboard (with occasional flute for added effect). It gave the band a feel that was a very fitting homage to what BOH was doing back when I saw them in February, complete with several-part harmonies, a melancholic folk-rock sound, and an overall sense of mellow laid-back ease. I’ll admit I wasn’t overly familiar with any of their prior catalogue up to that point, but their warm blend and winsome take on set-closing cover “I Shall Be Released” made for stirring up the steaming kettle of my curiosity. And if nothing else, that’s what every good opener should be able to accomplish.

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But then it was time for Band of Horses to hit the stage, also known as that moment where everything the opening band just did during it’s set pretty much melts away entirely until the next day. In it’s place was a foggy haze of excitement for the name on the front of the ticket, and BOH delivering on the anticipation by fiercely ripping into songs like “Cigarettes Wedding Bands”, “The Great Salt Lake”, “Laredo” and “The Funeral”. As with their February acoustic show the night was career-spanning for the group, though in similar fashion they mostly continue to dodge the weight from 2012’s lead balloon release “Mirage Rock”. It’s a move made for the better as it allows the quintet to lead with their best and most creative material, made all the more sharp by going for the traditional rock instrumentation that the Horses are best known for. Aside from moments like the stirring stripped-down sing-along of “No One’s Gonna Love You” and the Buddy Holly-esque walkdown of “St Augustine” their set was loud, relentless, and barely took a moment for a breath (or banter for that matter).

While it’s difficult to say exactly where Band of Horses is going in terms of their studio output these days, they remain a touring band on top that takes the best from both their acoustic and electric sides (I still can’t pick my favorite). While their harmonies are more soaring and crystalline in the space the quiet provides, songs like “Ode To LRC” and “Is There a Ghost” hit with the passion that they’re meant to when smashed down beneath the heel of tall amps and loud pedalboards. The chemistry between the bunch is immediately evident no matter the arrangement though, and the fire they brought to Town Ballroom this week left the whole room steaming (though to be fair that might be more of an air conditioning issue). Either way, go out and see them on tour with Midlake while you can. You certainly won’t be left regretting the decision.

Iron & Wine Goes Down Smooth And Sweet At The Smith

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Ahhh, another evening spent buried in the music at Geneva NY’s Smith Opera House. After my freshman encounter with the 120-year old historical theatre building back in 2011, the Smith has(dare I say it) started to feel like home returning just two weeks after seeing the stick of country-folk dynamite that was The Lone Bellow. This time around Geneva had the pleasure of hosting the masterfully versatile band Iron & Wine with opening act The Secret Sisters, which was a treat not only given their respective accolades but because it was an evening truly fit for feeling like you were out beneath the stars.

That little architectural slight-of-hand aside, the Smith Opera House once again proved it’s strength as an eclectic venue stop last Saturday night. Acoustics rang with an undeniable sheen out into the expanse of high ceilings, deep balconies and the rich smell of so many histories come and gone within walls like those. So beautifully sprung, yet so quickly evaporated before so many hungry eyes. Environment is everything as I see it, and a theatre like the Smith adds weight to every word, gravity to the melody, and beauty well-worn into the palm of each beat.

That steadying presence was put to good use as the evening led off with The Secret Sisters, AKA Alabama’s latest answer to those deceptively upbeat and charismatic singing duos first truly popularized in the 50’s and 60’s. Real-life sisters Laura and Lydia Rogers brought a comfortably harmonized yet effusive blend of country, gospel, blues-rock and swampy Southern charm to their opening set. Backed by a full supporting cast, the two wove cheerily between lyrical heartaches, jailbreaks, murder ballads and an overall sense of optimism that was one bridge away from a shot of whiskey followed by a lithium chaser. All in all, quite a way to have 40 minutes pass through the mirror.

By comparison I’m not quite sure what Iron & Wine was supposed to live up to exactly, but as he has since the band’s inception in 2002, lead man Sam Beam makes up the length and breadth of his own expectations. Accompanied by a versatile backing of guitars, banjo, keyboards, accordion, harmonica and electric ukelele, Beam wove well beyond the origin of his lo-fi folk roots into soul, R&B, pop, jazz and a wealth of catalogue-brightening orchestration. Though often his best moments were still the quietest as the band took a break mid-set and Beam stood alone, capo in hand to field a bevy of(suddenly) enthusiastic song requests. And while he did stumble once or twice with older material, songs like “Such Great Heights” and “Naked As We Came” poured outward with a haunting bliss packed so neatly inside pretty guitar lines and Beam’s hushed and yearning vocals.

And although he seemed nervous at times digging through so many of his own songs, Beam was the composite free and easy storyteller both in banter and in lyricisms throughout the night. In a fraction of a moment he’d loosely tease or joke around about how “weird” this was going to get, and in the next he’d fixate the crowd within the capturing rhythms of “Boy With A Coin” and “one for the chair-dancers” with “Grace For Saints and Ramblers”. And while I would have much preferred a crowd that felt a BIT less content to move to the music from their seats, the mood was vibrant, lush, and fun to keep the toes actively in rhythm to.

So while I wasn’t exactly what you’d call an avid Iron & Wine listener going into last Saturday’s evening at the Smith Opera House, their headlining set alongside The Secret Sisters made for one of the top live events I’ve seen so far in 2014. The historical ambiance, casual atmosphere and mellowing sounds made for a night so pleasant that knowing all the words, was certainly no requirement.

 

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