It’s entirely likely that more than a few people expected Tuesday night’s sold-out Band of Horses show in the Town Ballroom to be a relaxed, intimate event. Women would sway, men would stroke their beards, and all would join in the campfire communion projected throughout the band’s last release, 2013’s “Acoustic at The Ryman.”
But such expectations are the result of poor research.
As for those versed in the full sonic history of Band of Horses, they were treated to a sweltering mid-summer storm of electric ballads, college radio-favorites and the echoing wail of Ben Bridwell throughout a memorable night inside Buffalo’s Theater District.
The South Carolina quintet pulled into the Nickel City amid an unpredictable time in the band’s trajectory. After taking jilted youth by storm with evocative, jangling albums “Everything All The Time” and “Cease To Begin,” the band has juggled lineups while going from near-perfection (the Grammy-winning “Infinite Arms”) to inconsistency (the muddled “Mirage Rock”) to unplugged comfort (the aforementioned “Acoustic at The Ryman”).
But despite the uneven progression of its last three albums, Bridwell and Co. haven’t strayed from its original spirit. It hasn’t abandoned the southern harmonies that continue to soundtrack summer road trips, and it certainly hasn’t deviated from their charged electric sound that can double as an explosion of pent-up personal emotions. Now sandwiching some festival dates and a club tour around recording their next album, they’re simply working out the kinks, figuring out where to take their proven talent for soul-stirring, flannel-sleeved rock while still continuing to grow as a band.
That destination remains unknown. For the majority of Tuesday night, they decided to hold true to where they’ve been, eliciting waves of passion through tender vocals, crashing cymbals and Gibson-driven thrust.
Early show entries of “First Song” and “Cigarettes, Wedding Bands” were evidence of this, with both perpetrated through a hail of chords from lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey and thunderous percussion via Creighton Barrett wrapped around Bridwell’s impassioned vocal. Ramsey’s work on “Compliments” added to this early show power as well, soloing licks on his polished black Gibson as Bridwell questioned the existence of a god in the air, “someone looking out for everyone.”
The night’s first acoustic guitar sighting didn’t even happen until the Horses rode through their set’s first 11 songs – and right after a strobe-lit, three-guitar version of the hard-charging “NW Apt.” That acoustic cameo led their surprising and sublime cover of Gram Parsons’ “A Song For You,” but also let them take their foot off the gas for the harmonious pair of “Older” and “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone.”
But fusing these harmonies with the cacophonous blasts of late set entry “Is There A Ghost” is what made Band of Horses’ Tuesday night tour de force so invigorating. Fans know the band can join for five-man acoustical therapy on throw rugs, but they can also quietly emote on millennial wedding favorite “No One’s Gonna Love You” or delicately march toward a wall of guitars on both “The Great Salt Lake” and euphoric show finale “The Funeral.” Though this duality might not have been what some in attendance were expecting, it’s the essence of a band still diversifying its arsenal – amplified or otherwise.
Opening the night was a scaled-down version of prog-rock sextet, Midlake. The Denton, Texas outfit played as an acoustic trio, with Jesse Chandler on keys and flute, Joe McClellan on lead guitar, and Eric Pulido on guitar and vocals. Now touring off last year’s beautifully moody “Antiphon,” the group teamed for set highlights like the interwoven trance of “Young Bride,” the hauntingly gorgeous “It’s Going Down” and a flute-accented version of Bob Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released.”