Before Band of Horses frontman Ben Bridwell can strum the final chord to the second song of his set, someone in the audience is yelling “Funeral!” with a fierceness usually reserved for encores, when people are sufficiently loose enough to shout for what they really want out of a headliner. But Bridwell, super-skinny and smiling a crooked, chip monkey smile, won’t stand for that so early on. “Listen dudes,” he says, chuckling and pumping his fists into the air like the frat boy entourage I saw careening past the Paradise, on their way to back-to-school Allston keggers last Friday night. “Listen, we gotta talk before we go any further. We’ve only got 36 minutes of music on our CD, so we can’t just play that song.” He’s laughing, though he means business. Nobody asks for “The Funeral” again after that. BOH will deliver the goods eventually.
With his warped little grins, tattoos crawling up both of his veiny arms and scrawled on the sides of his neck, a full beard, and a black t-shirt with a picture of a grizzly bear on it, Bridwell’s more man-child than frontman; he’s got an innocent, open charm and a sunny air about him that doesn’t quite fit with his sad, glinting guitars or the pitched yearn in his voice. Still, Bridwell’s vocals on the band’s well-received, cascading waterfall of a debut Everything All of the Time translates amazingly well to a live show: instantly coated in the freshly-baked reverb that characterizes their harmonies. On cuts like the “The First Song” and the gorgeous, dream-pop perfect “Our Swords,” the carefully opaque distortions are so effective, it’s almost as if Bridwell is singing in another language.
The primary songwriter for BOH, Bridwell was joined onstage by guitarist Rob Hampton and drummer Creighton Barrett. The rest of lineup was supplemented by tourmates and bluesy folk-rock openers Simon Dawes. This was Bridwell’s affair, however, and he’s a refreshingly atypical leader, given that his band’s been showered with breathless blogger love and has maintained top-ten-search status on elbo.ws for weeks. Judging by the number of hipster ticket holders at the sold-out show, BOH have weaned indie-rockers off their Shins and Built to Spill records almost as hurriedly as they right-clicked and saved-as “The Great Salt Lake” off Stereogum months ago. Even the critical grouches at Pitchfork handed BOH an Olympic-worthy 8.8. Scores lower than that have been known to launch careers and move thousands of units, yet Bridwell and the band are no show-offs. They keep it simple. And after a few promising new tracks from their forthcoming EP, plus a handful of semi-obscure covers including a track by Boston’s own the New Year, Bridwell’s ready to give in. He opens “The Funeral,” and then stops immediately, chuckling, fooling us into thinking he’s going to forget the idea altogether. Yet instead of being annoyed, everyone’s just waiting patiently. Apparently that was all he needed to go on and pick right back up where he left off: “The Funeral” is a song with more than a few tricks up its sleeve. First it’s a slow-burning, restrained, finger-picked beauty of a ballad, then morphs into an explosive, jangler that sinks into its own distortion and cymbal crashes, big and powerful and unafraid, not looking to impress anyone, and, obviously, managing to do the exact opposite.