Saturday, February 16, 2008

Halfway To Forecastle--Headliners Music Hall, Louisville, Kentucky

Better Late Than Never...
January 26, 2008
"Weary my mind is to say the least. . . . I think I'll slow down if I am able."

The date is not a typo. Deadlines loom. Dogs seize. Wives demand attention. Life intervenes. But we at NQL believe in the old axiom "better late than never" (in fact, it's going to be in our masthead after redesign). So, yeah, Halfway to Forecastle. It happened. Almost a month ago. Which is like eons in Internet time.

Headliners is a great venue--an NQL Choice Pick that draws big-time touring acts and makes us think, "Indianapolis, get your shit together"--and I was amped to see Band of Horses stopping to throw down. I had an inkling that Cease to Begin is meant to be heard in a cramped, sweaty, not-that-good-sounding concert hall.

I secured a ticket when only Band of Horses were on the bill--only later were Early Day Miners, Catfish Haven, VHS or Beta, et al., added and the show turned into a benefit, the proceeds of which were to go to an xTreme athlete recovering from injuries sustained while shredding, dude. My thinking dictates that he assumes any an all risks inherent in, and therefore any and all consequences of, the activities in which he chooses to participate. I'm all for collective helping-out, and I understand it's tough when one of your homies is down, but I feel like somewhere along the way Band of Horses got fucked out of a sold-out show. Maybe I'm wrong, but I doubt it. Or perhaps that's guilt talking: I wanted BoH to have 60% (or whatever) of my $15 because I never paid∆ for Cease to Begin and I bought a used advance copy of Everything All the Time.

Of the other bands on the bill I've seen only Catfish Haven--at Headliners just over one year ago opening for the Hold Steady--and they were completely unremarkable. Friends saw Early Day Miners last autumn and left the show for sheer, seething boredom. Tyler Ramsey would've been nice, but there was Rock Band to play (or, in my case, watch and critique) and fermented barley and hops to consume.

From the Ashes of Guitarded and Band of Beards: Jim, Ryan, Andrea, and John performing as The Dong Machine, Rock Band demigods.

Preceding statements notwithstanding, I can be wowed by an unknown-to-me act. My love affair with The Thermals began last March after they torched my dome in their slot opening for, coincidentally, the Hold Steady.

We arrived just before Cass McCombs took the stage. Never having heard him I kept an open mind, but his set failed to hold my attention--and, judging from the general anti-enthusiasm, the rest of the audience's as well--for more than one song. Jim (you all remember Jim, right?) summed it up thus: "This sounds like a CD I'd like." Agreed. We used this opportunity to visit the bar and the unoccupied restrooms.

Before settling in for Band of Horses, we ran through the NQL Concert Preparedness Checklist:

$2 High Lifes? Check.
Smoke machine? Check.
Tallest concert ever?‡ Check.
Coat check? Negative.

Ben Bridwell and company took the stage to a thunderous welcome and kicked off melancholic with "Monsters", a favorite featuring Bridwell sitting before his pedal steel. After opening with that high-lonesome, Band of Horses upped the energy, tearing through the more raucous highlights of both albums--no rest between songs, no banter, no bullshit, a full concert's worth of material in abbreviated stage time. (Thanks, gents.) Including, in no particular order, to the best of my recollection: "Weed Party", "No One's Gonna Love You", "Is There a Ghost", "Marry Song", "Lamb of the Lam", "Ode to LRC", and, of course, "The Funeral". I hoped they wouldn't play their big one--not that it's bad or that I didn't want to hear it, but just because. Almost as if to tell the audience, "We're past all that. Here's where we're going." But play it and play it well they did, and the crowd sang harmony to the rafters. (Incidentally, the band played at least one new song, composed by the keyboardist, a fellow whose name escapes me. It was a solid, rollicking number that, if nothing else, allowed Bridwell a few minutes' rest and possibly introduced us to the new, two-headed Band of Horses songwriting attack.)

The highlight for me, though, was a phenomenal cover of CCR's immortal "Effigy". (Fitting, because when you think about it, every band is really a CCR cover band. Except Liars. They're a Bang Your Face Against the Wall Because You Took Too Much Lithium cover band.) No commentary; the band can speak for themselves.

There were supposed to be videos of the show to accompany this review but I had technical difficulties. Who knew the camera wouldn't re-orient itself when tilted on its side? You learn something new every time you bootleg a concert to post on the Internet. Anyway, chiefly I discovered this night that Band of Horses are a consummate concert band, and that, good as Bridwell's voice sounds on wax, live it sounds stronger--even more athletic, nimble, and clear. After Band of Horses loaded out their gear, the evening was basically done for me. I saw what I came to see, but local favorites VHS or Beta were to take the stage next.

Stop sweatin' me.

Knowing nothing of VHS or Beta, again I defer to Jim: "More leather." Agreed. Without getting (unable to get?) specific, their set left me unimpressed. Each song sounded the same, and frontman Craig Pfunder was a brat, uttering ridiculous things between songs that he surely meant to be funny but came across as WTF. In a lame attempt at thanking the crowd for attending, Pfunder quipped, "If you weren't here we'd probably be at home slitting our wrists." Huh. Then I would've stayed home.

Headliners becomes a sauna after a while, so John and I stepped outside for some air and made our way into the woods behind the venue in search of some plane that is surely a Louisville urban legend. We almost got "there" before a back-door bouncer summoned us to return, giving us the stinkeye they whole way back, probably because John was trashed, was making tons of noise, and had already fallen down once. (At least Lance Armstrong wasn't around.)

After that we took the best cab ride ever# to have pizza with Burt Reynolds.

Excuse me, ma'am, did I leave my boots under your bed?

∆I still owe someone money for my ticket. Jim? John? Speak up. Your grace period is running out.
‡At 6'3" I did my part. But I even asked the very short girl behind me if she could see, did she want to switch me spots, and she assured me that yes, she could see, switching spots wasn't necessary but thanks. However, I suspected otherwise, a suspicion confirmed by my inestimable colleague Matt Farra.
#Scoop: John called some guy named James, apparently a cabbie, who redirected his van's path to Headliners. When a van showed up John ran to it and said, "Are you James?" He was not James. John asked, "Well can you give us a ride anyway?" He could, and we entered an amazing-smelling, toasty-warm Rasta cab that was jamming sick reggae. Never mind that I had to smash into the way-back seat.

--Brian Herrmann

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