Saturday, February 2, 2013

Band Of Horses Live

Band of Horses, Mike Noga (Support)
'Mirage Rock' LP Tour
Opera House, Wellington (rescheduled from Town Hall, Wellington)
Tuesday 14th January 2013

Band of Horses have played in Auckland twice before, in consecutively larger venues (The Kings Arms in 2007 and The Powerstation in 2010, which I attended), though this show was their first scheduled date in Wellington. Sadly, it appears that they've reached the scale of their appeal, because a larger venue (Auckland Town Hall) was booked for the subsequent Auckland date and then pared back to The Powerstation. Similarly, the original scheduled Wellington date (at Wellington Town hall, a mixed stalls/seated venue with a great balcony view) was rescheduled with a couple of weeks notice to The Opera House.

Put simply, The Opera House is not an equivalent venue. On the day that Ticketek (the Australasian ticket agency) emailed me to announce the change of venues, I went into one of their branches to organise replacement tickets. Band of Horses are my favourite contemporary act and I booked tickets immediately that pre-release tickets were available to Ticketek mailing list subscribers and chose tickets in the reserve seating area. As such, I secured tickets, just off-centre in row AA at the back of the hall right in front of the band. (Band of Horses are an Americana/Alt-Country act, albeit with an indie outlook and a history on the pre-eminent grunge label Sub Pop. As such, a lot of their material isn't exactly the thing that I'd jump about to, even if I wasn't to old and decrepit to do so).

Despite them emailing ticket holders, on going into the Ticketek office, the person behind the counter knew nothing of the gig being rescheduled and advised that I call their call centre to discuss further. I did this and was told, categorically, that my tickets would be replaced with of similarly un-obscured view of the band. I also emailed Ticketek to again reiterate that I expected decent tickets at the rescheduled gig.

Two weeks passed, and the week before the gig my tickets arrived by post.

I'd been allocated row C seats to the far right of the dress circle. I've been to that venue before and knew that was round about where a pillar is situated. I called Ticketek to find out why I'd been allocated such terrible tickets but was told that was all that the tickets were equivalent and that there is no obstruction in that area. (On attending the gig, I realised that I wasn't far out - the pillar, luckily, was immediately behind my left shoulder). After, the call centre operative told me that nothing could be done unless I put my grievance in writing. As such I emailed Ticketek and explained that I'd previously been in the centre block and was subsequently told that the only seats that they had left in the centre block were in row H and were right to one side of that block. Based on their advice that the side area has no obstruction to the view, we, grudgingly, stayed where we were.

Onto the gig: I've been reading about Band of Horses US dates and was happy to learn that their lead guitarist, Tyler Ramsey, whom is a fine singer/songwriter in his own right, had been opening US shows. I sought out Ramsey's second solo album, 'Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea' a couple of years ago and am every bit as bigger fan of his solo material as the band. This makes it doubly frustrating that I missed him opening for the band when I first saw them in Bristol, UK, in 2007. I was as thus slightly disappointed to find that someone called Mike Noga was opening for the Wellington show.

That aside, Noga is apparently a friend of the band through his day-job as drummer in previous Band Of Horses tourmates, Melbourne band, The Drones. He performed introspective folky material (though it's hard to do anything else with an acoustic guitar and harmonica) with a particular style of over-enunciyayshon that was just this side of irritating. His set largely consisted of songs from his recently released 'The Baladeer Hunter' and that albums 'Eileen' (referred to by Noga as "an irish murder ballad, written by someone born in Canberra, raised in Hobart, who lives in Melbourne") was a set highlight.

Noga's third career as a stand-up comic stands him in good stead and he built rapport with his still-arriving audience (though was understandably thrown by someone shouting, "haere mai", when he announced that he's never been to Wellington before). Another high-point was his, 'All My Friends Are Alcoholics' which has the rare privelege of being a song title that I really wish I'd thought of first. Sadly, it's not on 'The Baladeer Hunter', its simply named predecessor, 'Folk Songs', or on his Soundcloud. It's a great song (and sentiment) nonetheless.

Band of Horses are currently touring their Glen John's produced fourth LP, 'Mirage Rock', which continues the trend of each successive LP being more pastoral, more classic country-rock-esque, so you'd expect that their set reflected this trend. You'd be wrong, however.

The five piece band took to the stage at 09.30. Or at least I think they did. From where I was sitting, it looked to all intents and purposes that four of the band was playing with one of the obelisks from '2001: A Space Odyssey' playing lead guitar.

Despite their being four empty theatre boxes on either side of the stage and ample space at the front of the auditorium, the venue positioned the PA system at the sides of the stage itself. As such, those sitting on the right of the hall couldn't see Tyler Ramsey and (according to the review on the (Wellington newspaper) Dominion Post website, the right side couldn't see multi-instrumentalist Ryan Murphy either). In addition, the Opera House is an all seated venue and as such wasn't even suitable for a rock show anyway.

Thanks of course also goes to the utterly incompetent Ticketek, whom assured me that my seats would not have an incumbered view. Pearl Jam (whom Band Of Horses opened for on a major US tour) took on the hegemony of Ticketmaster over rock shows in the US and I dearly wish that someone would do the same with Ticketek here. Shihad are probably the biggest NZ rock band, so I'm suggesting they do it. Shihad: grow a pair and stop us getting messed about.

It smacks of total incompetence on the part of promoters of gigs in Wellington that shows here are regularly rescheduled to different venues. Promoters consistently under or over-estimate the relative appeal of touring acts. I've seen Fleet Foxes at The Town Hall (rescheduled from The Hunter Lounge, which is less than half the size) and had tickets for De La Soul at The San Francisco Bath House (a club), which was later rescheduled for the Opera House. One questions what kind money grabbing promoter would reschedule a hip-hop show in an all seater venue? I didn't even bother to attend.

Band of Horses obviously attract a level of devotion that it appears from my friends reports that De La Soul didn't (their audience at The Opera House remaining sedentary) and the band had a standing audience of a good 200 by the end of the first song. Despite their obvious discomfort with it, Opera House security left the audience standing. (Though set two security members on the balcony to glower over the audience and shine torches on anyone filming - evidently one of the venues concerns for the theatre/comedy shows that they're better suited to hosting).

The band rattled through the first six or seven songs, leaving minimal breaks between songs - a trick which I wonder was copied off of Foo Fighters (another former touring partner).

Sadly, the poor view of the band was matched with extremely poor sound. Their debut LP opener, the steel guitar led, 'The First Song' was a particular nadir, with Ben Bridwell's vocals being completely lost in the mix.

My favourite Band Of Horses LP is the first that I got to know, their sophomore effort 'Cease To Begin' and this formed the backbone of the set, with a shorter list of tracks being excluded ('Detlef Schrempf', 'Lamb on the Lam (in the City)' and 'Window Blues') than the ones they played.

The remainder of the set mixed the familiar; their debut's 'Great Salt Lake' and 'Funeral' (which Bridwell called their "fake last song" and was played immediately before they left stage - returning later for an encore) and the less so, the latest LP's 'Fued' providing a similar highpoint to the last third of the set as it does to the LP.

Sadly, the last period of the set was further beset by poor sound and Bridwell's frustration was clear during a stop start 'No One's Gonna Love You', during which his usually pitch-perfect vocal delivery went awry.

Band of Horses usually play with a pretty substantial stage set and Bridwell's trademark Marshall Bluesbreaker amp was visibly placed off stage left, facing outward, presumably due to the limited space  or feedback issues on the wooden theatre stage. Sadly, he clearly had issues monitoring his guitar signal, so the sound was perhaps as unsatisfactory on-stage as it was off.

All in all, a great band, playing great material in a poor venue, with poor sound and poor organisation. A sadly squandered opportunity for the bands first Wellington show, albeit totally out of their control.

Oh - and don't get me started on the idiotic girl who got on stage four (repeat: four) times.

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