Concert Review: Band of Horses at the Fillmore Miami Beach, April 28

Band of Horses
The Fillmore Miami Beach at the Jackie Gleason Theater
April 28, 2010

Better than: A hot, endless afternoon of barbecue and horseshoes off the Carolina coast.

Somewhere in the middle of "Ode to the LRC," a revelation hit. My head was nodding along and my eyes were closed as Ben Bridwell's haunting, reverbed vocals bounced around the theater and Band of Horses' rhythmic guitars loped to a cathartic chorus. Then a single thought cut through the lovely atmospherics: These guys should not be able to get away with this.

Seriously, what other band can hit a chorus proclaiming, "The world's such a wonderful place! Lah de dah!" without coming off as treacly and over-the-top? And yet Bridwell not only gets away with it, he somehow complicates that refrain, turning it into an aching, melancholy ode to life in the South, in a town "so small, how could anyone not look you in the eye?"

That's the genius of Band of Horses. Bridwell and his crew, which relocated from Seattle to his native North Carolina before their second release, evoke dirt roads, long afternoons on dusty coastal islands, weed parties and longing for a simple country life without once hitting an annoyingly nostalgic note.

Bridwell's voice, which soars over his band's mix of jangly indie rock and steel-guitared country burners, surely has a lot to do with that magic. From full-on rocker "Is There a Ghost" to the lovely ballad "No One's Gonna Love You" to crowd favorite "Cigarettes Wedding Bands," Bridwell's pipes were the star of Wednesday's show.

That's not to slight the other Horses, who sounded crisp even through the thick woods of reverb in "The Funeral," the penultimate regular set song before joyful country-stomper "The General Specific." For the encore, Bridwell manned the steel guitar for "Monsters," ending by intoning a line that could be the Band of Horses mantra, evoking happy afternoons stumbling around a Deep South forest somewhere -- "If I'm lost, it's only for a little while."

Critics Notebook

Personal Bias: I wore "Cease to Begin" out on long road trips across the Great Plains, and I still haven't found a better album for endless drives through empty towns.

Random Detail: Are Bridwell and opener Josh Roberts engaged in an epic beard-off? If so, Roberts wins by a bushy mustache.

By the Way: Band of Horses' new disc, Infinite Arms, comes out May 18.

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