You didn’t see it on the Austin Limits Festival schedule, but there was an unofficial third headliner Friday night. At least that’s how it felt. Even if the stage was three miles from Zilker Park, and Band of Horses didn’t start their set until the festival had wrapped for the night.
The set from the low-country rockers had all of the energy, joy and group sing-along material of any set at ACL Fest, with the benefit of an intimate environment. After spending a day at Zilker, Stubb’s felt like a little club, perfect for a band that feeds off a crowd’s energy.
Frontman Ben Bridwell spent part of the summer touring with local Sam Beam of Iron and Wine and Band of Horses doesn’t even have tour dates listed on its website, making Friday night’s show feel like a gift.
Bridwell, who has played Austin with BOH many times over the past 8 years, including great shows at La Zona Rosa and Central Presbyterian during SXSW, early on acknowledged his love of the city, and the genuine appreciation was obviously mutual from a crowd that seemed to know every lyric.
The profession of affection made the slow-building shuffle of “On My Way Back Home” a fitting opener, before moving into an up-tempo version of “Laredo, ” which felt like a windows-down roadtrip.
There had been rumors before the show about the band trotting out some new material, and while they did play a new song identified as “Writers” online, with the exception of a cover of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s “Powderfinger, ” the night was a showcase of much of the best work from the band’s first two exceptional albums, including almost every song from 2007’s “Cease to Begin.”
Band of Horses proved themselves masters of harmony and pace, building songs, hitting fierce songs, and cascading vocals down on the crowd. The folksy and triumphant beauty of “Marry Song” and rollicking “Ode to LRC” prove the breadth and depth of a band that feels like the kid who took woodshop and drama class in high school.
The band plays with a whiskey-fueled road house swagger, but also with an unapologetic sensitivity. Couples wrapped in each other’s arms, alternating their glances from the stage to each other’s eyes as they swayed and mouthed the lyrics to “No One’s Gonna Love You, ” the song a perfect example of the band’s equal appeal to men and women.
The band may have tired of playing hits such as “The Funeral, ” but with the exception of a little tongue-in-cheek nod to the song’s popularity, Bridwell and company burned the place down with the show closer before coming to encore with the dreamy denouement of “Monsters, ” its therapeutic lyric “If I am lost it’s only for a little while” sending the crowd home unified, hopeful and maybe a little misty-eyed.
Band of Horses setlist via SetlistFM.com
“On My Way Back Home”
“Cigarettes, Wedding Bands”
“Powderfinger” (Neil Young and Crazy Horse cover)
“No One’s Gonna Love You”
“Islands on the Coast”