CHICAGO — There's always a show the night before Lollapalooza that it seems like everyone needs to get into. (Last year, it was a [article id="1668599"]super-rare club show[/article] by the Foo Fighters.)
On Thursday night, as usual, that gig was at the city's beloved northside rock club Metro, where South Carolina-via-Portland Band of Horses brought their aw shucks Southern gothic roar to a packed house primed for a weekend of thunder from the likes of the Black Keys, Jack White, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and more than 100 other bands.
They opened big with two favorites, "The Great Salt Lake" and the hypnotic "Is There a Ghost" and from there singer/guitarist Ben Birdwell charmed the packed crowd with a set that jumped from familiar sing-alongs to new tunes from their upcoming second major-label album, Mirage Rock.
The fresh tracks were of a piece with the band's catalog, from the Creedence Clearwater Revival-esque country rocker "Hot To Live," to the mellow- down-easy Eagles vibe of "Slow Cruel Hands of Time," which sounded like an AM radio ballad that time forgot.
Things got thick and swampy for "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands" and the beat got to swinging for "Laredo," during which the formerly-stage-shy Birdwell bounced around on the toes of his scuffed cowboy boots with a big smile plastered on his face.
Another new tune, "Dumpster World," seemed poised for instant adoption as a crowd favorite, as it slogged along patiently until bursting open midway into an angry thunder before easing back down into a loungey bubble.
The title track of the band's 2010 breakthrough, "Infinite Arms" started out as the perfect ethereal tune for stargazing on a warm, clear night, until it blew up into a ringing double guitar blitz that sounded like a swarm of electric bees. That tip of the trucker hat to Neil Young and Crazy Horse perfectly set up the first single from the new album, "Knock Knock," a speedy cowpunk tune that sounds like BOH's best bet to date for a Kings of Leon-type breakthrough.
One of the last (and best) new tracks was the spare acoustic shuffle "Everything's Gonna Be Undone," during which Birdwell set down his guitar and instead smashed a tambourine with a drum stick.
The unofficial slow dance prom anthem of the nose ring nation (in a totally awesome way), "No One's Gonna Love You," managed to sound like a crushing Led Zeppelin ballad anchored by a throbbing Cure-like base line. If that sounds like something that couldn't, or shouldn't work, you're wrong, because it does. Every time.
The 90-plus minute show crashed to a close with the new punked up Eagles-like "Electric Music," into the buzz nation anthem "Weed Party," swirling "Ode to LRC" and a haunting "The Funeral." Birdwell started the latter by himself on electric guitar, his vocals echoing throughout the club like a cold chill before the band kicked in with an explosion of psychedelic swamp rock.
It's gonna be a long, hot weekend by the lake, but Band of Horses may just have set the pace perfectly.
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