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This is how it happened: downtown Davis Square on a Tuesday night. Picture it chilly, a low 20 degrees, with the wind jostling through the streets as people made their way to the historical Somerville Theatre.
The environment was right. The stage was set like a musician’s living room, complete with oriental rugs and an end table topped with a bottle of wine and clear plastic cups. In the corner there was an old record player and nearby sat kitchen table styled chairs, a warmly lit lamp adjacent.
“Just because we’re in this beautiful theater,” Ben Bridwell, the lead vocalist of Band of Horses, said, “doesn’t mean you can’t relax. You can still yell at us.”
His words ignited laughter from the crowd that set the overarching theme for the night. There was a lot of laughter, witty banter, and good laid back humor. And when someone did yell out near the end of the show to play J.J. Cale’s “13 Days”, the band agreed willingly, improvising on their feet (with incredible duo piano playing thanks to Ramsey and Monroe).
Band of Horses is on their east coast tour for their latest album, Acoustic at the Ryman, which features ten of their most well-known songs unplugged, from a mix of their four studio albums. They’ve been around since 2004, originally from Seattle, and the five-part band consists of Ben Bridwell (lead vocalist and guitar), Tyler Ramsey (lead guitarist), Ryan Monroe (multi-instrumentalist and vocals), Bill Reynolds (bassists), and Creighton Barrett (drums).
The show started out like an intimate jam session. They began with “St. Augustine” from their first album Everything All the Time and “Detlef Schrempf” from their second album Cease to Begin. The blend of older and newer songs was precise and the balance of their slower, quieter songs with the more upbeat rock was generally spot-on.
It’s not easy to play an acoustic show, just like it’s not easy to bare your soul. Yet, Band of Horses was willing to. They stripped back, showed their flaws, bantered in between, and shared their awesome talents with all of us.
At first, the show felt separated-the audience as observers, the musicians up on stage in a dollhouse set. “Let us into your home,” the audience seemed to ask, and then Band of Horses replied, “Come on in.”
By the time the band reached their darlings of “Detlef Schrempf” and “Everything’s Gonna be Undone,” the audience was sitting right there on the couch with them.
My favorite song of the evening was, without a doubt, the special arrangement of “Is There a Ghost” done just for the show. This was their final song before the encore. Originally off of their album Cease to Begin, the track sounded especially fresh and new again. It was like seeing your old childhood town again, where everything looks and feels a bit novel, but your roots and love for the past are still there. The nostalgia creeps up on you. The energy was tangible up on stage, with all five band members playing their instruments. The sound grew to crescendo and left the audience invigorated with awe. Other notable tracks were “The Great Salt Lake,” “The Funeral,” and “Compliments.”
“This is just how we are at home,” Bridwell said, “I dress up like a teacher.”
“Oh yeah, I wear this hat when I’m watching TV on the couch,” Monroe said of his fedora.
The songs were rich and full in a raw honest way. We were all just a part of the Band of Horses’ home, and they even acknowledged the members in the back balconies, waving up to them. Showcasing their talented voices and musicianship, they made the audience continuously laugh. It was enjoyable just to watch their interactions on stage as the resulting chemistry from their close relationships was palpable. Insight hit me during the encore of “Monsters.” No one else could do this as strongly as Band of Horses. It’s clear that the music comes from each of them individually, and all of them as a whole. They are all integral to the magic, and the unplugged, acoustic show only exemplifies that. They are a band, and if one of them is ever “lost only for a little while,” they find themselves again in each other.