Band of Horses and Dinosaur Jr.
at the Wiltern, September 8
Before Band of Horses began their set at the Wiltern as openers for Dinosaur Jr., a stranger tapped me on the shoulder. “Are you here for Band of Horses or Dinosaur Jr.?” she asked. She was taking a poll. I pondered for a second. Dinosaur Jr. was a godhead presence in my teens and 20s, this huge, overpowering three-piece that managed to couple the strength of Motorhead with the finesse of the Byrds to produce a handful of huge, astounding albums. Band of Horses, however, was a current obsession. Their debut, Everything All the Time, has, over the last year, woven itself into the fabric of my brain. Their songs loop in my head over and over, taut, logical and glorious, augmented by Ben Bridwell’s ringing voice. I was there to see both, I told her, before being forced to acknowledge to myself that I probably would have come to this show minus Dinosaur Jr., but not vice versa. (I’ve seen Dinosaur many times, most notably as opener for My Bloody Valentine in the early 1990s.) I was hoping for a surprise.
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Having never seen Band of Horses before, the first surprise was Bridwell’s neck tattoos. With a voice so sweet and lonesome, I imagined a twee little fella with a nice haircut and maybe a pinky ring. Instead, Bridwell’s a skinny guy with jumbo cowboy boots and a big backwoods beard. He looks like Mick Fleetwood in the cocaine years. Bridwell strapped a Les Paul around his torso, the other two guitarists did the same, and immediately the five piece locked into a warm, melodic groove, one that would sustain itself for the duration of the hour-long set. The crowd — as the amateur pollster later determined — consisted of many Band of Horses fans, so devoted that when Bridwell dove into “Is There a Ghost,” the first single from their forthcoming album, Cease to Begin, the crowd sang with him: “I could sleeeeep, I could sleeee-eee-eeeep.”
The band concentrated its set on newer material, even apologized at one point for doing so. No matter, regardless of the genesis, the songs touched timelessness. Band of Horses are a guitar band, sweet and not so simple, and strum their way to heaven without need for guitar solos or pyrotechnics. Instead, at the Wiltern they sounded like an updated, country-tinged Wire, delivering songs that begin with monumental riffs, examining these riffs from a few different angles, then stopping.
Dinosaur Jr., on the other hand, live and die by volume and J. Mascis’ guitar solos. Looking like an aging It from the Addams Family, all hair and body but no face, the guitar hero hasn’t lost any of his energy. The songs are still as loud as fuck — the Marshall stacks kick out mean distortion that bounces around the room as it collects overtones and hidden frequencies. The band played most of its anthems — “Little Fury Things” was the best — and a few tracks from their most recent album, Beyond. These newer songs were fine, but failed to capture my imagination. Maybe, however, that’s just my hang-up. By the time Band of Horses exited the stage, my night had peaked — which isn’t Dinosaur’s fault. In my mind, their moment has passed, and Band of Horses’ are just arriving.