Band of Horses, Israel Nash at O2 Academy, 16/2/17

A pleasingly diverse spectrum of people fill up the Academy as we wait for the music to start; there are two organs on the stage and a wide variety of pedals, triggers and controllers, the slightly smoky air on stage hangs still amidst lime-green lights.

Out comes Israel Nash to disturb it slightly; the large hat wearing organ player opens the set with some ambient and melodic electronic music.

When the vocals and harmonica begin they are of a high quality, but are altogether too loud, tiny and without mass.

Israel Nash – the act, not the man – offers some classical acoustic country with organ synthesised full band dynamics.

The electronic organ opens up capabilities that a full band can’t; conferring some very timely experimental music that softens and deepens the set.

It is this electronic aspect of the performance that separates Nash from run-of-the-mill folk-country music.

The electronics and organ make for a very convincing impression of an electric guitar solo, so convincing that it would have only sounded better coming from a real guitar.

The venue is busy but not too full and the effervescent roar of a thousand little conversations gives way as the light descends and Band of Horses come out.

They are full of energy from the word go kicking off with ‘Casual Party’, yet the large crowd remains static.

Band of Horses deviate vocally and musically from the record often, Ben Bridwell is particularly energetic and is a dynamic performer; this is no paint by numbers performance.

At the least, the songs sound like they do on record; over and above that, they are filled with passionate and technically impressive experimentation.

Having three guitars allows the band to produce some excellent inter-song interludes in lieu of banter adding to a playful, engaging and enjoyable set, beautifully underpinned by subtle and emotional vocal harmonics and freestyle guitar work – they are a band well formed.

They meander over notes, slow things down, speed them up and more generally they broaden the scope of their sound throughout the performance.

Their records contain some fairly difficult vocals, live Bridwell doesn’t phone these moments in, delivering over and above.

They play a nice mix of classic crowd-pleasers as well as some lesser-known gems, however for all the band’s efforts the crowd fails to meet them halfway in terms of energy

The drive to deliver a stellar performance may have dwindled over the course of a gig such as this in a lesser act, but Band of Horses keep the heat on for the duration.

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Words: Paul Aitken
Photos: Allan Lewis

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