“I’m going to go get one of those embarrassingly large beers,” said Hearne toward the end of the Band of Horses set.
That’s right, there was a HCJ sighting, plus his lovely bride. He even bought me a Corona, which I think is my salary for this month.
The Horses started a bit before sundown to an enthusiastic though somewhat underwhelming crowd that seemed almost as excited to see them as they were for the headliners, My Morning Jacket. Half the venue was partitioned off with moveable screens – most likely for the artist’s benefit of not having to look up into all those empty seats.
No worries, though. The several thousand concertgoers that did show up had plenty of energy to throw at the bands. And the bands sent it right back.
The Horses played for about an hour, hitting all their fan favorites like No One’s Gonna Love You, Ghost in My House, and The Great Salt Lake, all of which garnered some singalongs and fist pumps.
When they launched into The Funeral, everyone stood up to witness the poignant ballad, and afterwards offered the strongest applause of the set. Ben Bridwell’s high-pitched vocals were strong and crystal clear, which was a bit surprising given how much vocal reverb the studio albums feature. I liked the live version better.
The band dedicated the song after that to their bus driver, though when it garnered less enthusiastic applause Bridwell conceded, “I guess you guys were right, that’s maybe not as good as The Funeral.”
That’s true, but Bridwell’s band of brothers did more than enough musically to set the stage for the blazing southern psychedelic rock that the headliners would unleash.
As the sun set, I went and got my own embarrassingly large ten buck beer and MMJ’s tech guys wheeled out their rigs, which included a giant stuffed bear wearing a cape. Of course.
“I think the bear has a pipe,” the cute girl next to me said. I squinted. I think she was right.
Jim James and crew came out a bit subdued by their standards, with the brooding Cobra, followed by the just plain weird Holdin On to Black Metal, the devil rock anthem that features choruses with a dozen or so pre-recorded female backing vocal parts.
They picked up a little momentum from there, James’ Flying V buzzing and growling through Evil Urges and The Dark before lightening it up with Off the Record, a song with a reggae beat that shows off the versatility of the southern rockers from Kentucky.
The best bits, though, came at the very end of the set, when MMJ seemed to finally hit their stride, rocking through a noisy Magheeta, followed by Gideon, and closing it out with One Big Holiday, of course.
They re-emerged for an encore as they always do, but by then the energy they harnessed momentarily had vanished.
Of the five or six times I’ve seen MMJ live, this was, by far, their least celebratory effort to date. But what do you expect when they haven’t released any new material in almost two years? And the venue is less than half full.
I guess 5 out of 6 ain’t bad.
Though I missed the opening band, Portland’s up and comers, Blind Pilot, I was told they laid down a great set. It’s always a little weird when the openers are out there playing in the sunshine while people are filing in and getting beers, but these guys will be back at a smaller venue and are definitely worth checking out.
MMJ Set List: