“I’ve never seen London looking so beautiful,” sighs Band Of Horses‘ frontman Ben Bridwell, as he peers out into the crowd gathered in the courtyard of Somerset House. He has a point; tonight’s the second of this year’s fortnight-long Summer Series at the landmark venue – these days more frequently used to house exhibitions – and, as night falls over the Thames the still heat, the hum of the Southbank and the splendour of the setting make for a pretty special arena.
The show’s a sell out, but it never feels crowded and much of the audience takes to wandering about the relatively compact venue to take in different views of Bridwell and co or queue in a very orderly fashion for the bar. It’s a civilised affair – a mixture of beards and suits, so their set list came as quite a surprise. Corporate (the series is sponsored by American Express), statement shows like this are when you pull out the ‘hits’, no? No, not Band Of Horses who, while playing fan favourites, also dug much deeper into their four-album back catalogue, pulling out requests submitted via the internet.
They kick off with Monsters from their first album, the 2006 Sub Pop release, Everything All The Time, and while it takes a while for audience and band to warm to each other – Bridwell’s initially closed off, only making eye contact with the rest of his band, puffing on a cigarette and shielding his face with a baseball cap – when, about four songs in, they click, they forge an easy, comfortable relationship with the crowd. They seem relaxed, as though they’re playing in their mum’s living room, rather than the courtyard of an 18th Century neo-classical mansion.
A cover of Gram Parsons‘ A Song For You sits perfectly among the tinged Americana that sounds stronger than ever tonight, sometimes at the expense of what should have been fist pump moments, like The Great Salt Lake and No One’s Gonna Love You. Bridwell plays up to this, referring to the crowd as “Y’all”, and they reciprocate with howled whoops and “Hell yeah!”s.
Any softening is forgiven with Is There A Ghost – a real goose bump moment, which reaches such an intensity, with Bridwell’s voice right on the edge, that it silences the chatter, the entire audience giving him their attention.
After an hour-and-a-half they make a sharp exit – no encore – and as the crowd filters out onto Waterloo Bridge, there’s a sense of “Was that it?” They were charming, ballsy in their choice to hang so much of their set on requests, and the perfect soundtrack to a summer’s evening but, with the exception of Is There A Ghost, tonight felt slightly muted, like a missed opportunity to prove what Band Of Horses can do on a grand scale.