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Band Of Horses – The Forum, Melbourne 24/07/16

Those beardy South Carolina-based indie-rockers Band Of Horses (BOH), assembled by lanky singer/guitarist Ben Bridwell, may not be the most buzz act to have joined 2016’s Splendour In The Grass juggernaut, but they are touring behind a decent comeback album in Why Are You OK. The Americana faves last headed our way for 2013’s Big Day Out, post-Mirage Rock, and peeps have obviously missed them.

BOH — Bridwell now accompanied by Tyler Ramsey (guitar), Bill Reynolds (bass), Ryan Monroe (keyboards) and Creighton Barrett (drums) — became big news with 2010’s Infinite Arms. They even landed a song on a Twilight Saga soundtrack. However, rather than devolving into jaded stadium rock-stars like Kings Of Leon, they’ve since settled back into a sanguine overground.

The Forum proved the perfect venue for BOH; it’s both intimate and grand. The band’s Friday night Splendour set clashed with that of The Avalanches, so the Melbourne headline show was all about them. But, first, Gareth Liddiard

BOH have long championed their Aussie besties The Drones. As such, it came as no surprise when they reached out to them as tour supports. Though The Drones dropped an album, Feelin Kinda Free, earlier this year, the band’s frontman Liddiard played as part of a new vehicle, MK-Ultra – their repertoire including Drones and his solo fare.

In fact, MK-Ultra is a Drones sub-group with Liddiard and regular cohorts Steve Hesketh and Dan Luscombe. It’s an experimental, grungy musical hybrid centred on Liddiard’s guitar, keys and a VERY LOUD drum machine. “We are the newest band in the world,” a suited Liddiard announced at the start in his deep, decadent drawl. “We are fresh.”

The trio kicked off with The Drones’ provocative (to Andrew Bolt, at least) 2015 single Taman Shud – which sounded like The Clash, only more anarchic. MK-Ultra are raucous and chaotic, Liddiard treading that fine line between progressive and self-indulgent, tortured and painful.

Alas, another local band, My Disco (with, ironically, a real drummer) create stronger minimalist post-punk with greater intensity and discipline. The three-day-old MK-Ultra were possibly too fresh to play out. BOH couldn’t come on soon enough.

BOH — now referred to as ‘The Horseys’ by Aussie fans — shuffle their setlists, and so Googling provides few clues as to what to expect at shows. This evening the unpretentious five-piece opened with an old anthem, Is There A Ghost, their break-out off 2007’s Cease To Begin, before cracking into Casual Party — the jaunty, rhythmic lead single from Why….

And the Southerners played several other new numbers: Solemn Oath, a country stomper; In A Drawer, a bit Kings Of Leon-sy; and Throw My Mess. Oddly, while spanning their five albums, Mirage Rock got short thrift.

Critics have accused BOH of writing samey songs, and of being too languid. Yet, live, BOH rock out. Their show was high-energy, with Bridwell dominating the proceedings. Still, there were mellow moments. The band quit the stage so Bridwell might perform the early, Sub Pop-era St Augustine solo on acoustic guitar.

The night’s biggest song arrived late – No One’s Gonna Love You, another classic from Cease… (anyone remember CeeLo Green’s implausible cover?). The attentive, somewhat sedate crowd sang along. Towards the end, BOH brought out The Drones’ members for a heavy (metal) jam.

Unfortunately, we missed one of the greatest BOH songs — the title-track from Infinite Arms, their foray into space rock. Next time, maybe?

Band Of Horses play the Sydney Opera House tonight (25th July) and The Grifter Brewery later this week. Details here.

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