Chad VanGaalen / Band of Horses
Bottletree; Birmingham, AL
Hipsters have become a clean
bunch. Never before have I stood packed in a throng of people in a smallish
venue and been so... pleased with the scents wafting from those around me —
this time, soapy and deodorant-y. No patchouli, no pesky bad breath, and no
body odor. Now, where was I? This show was a would-be Sub Pop showcase, save
the fact that the night was opened by Simon Dawes, whose set I was unable to
In my world, late as I was, it was Chad VanGaalen who opened the show to a
crowd obviously present to hear his more rockish, buzzed-about labelmates Band
of Horses. As delightfully weird as he is on his records, VanGaalen was quite
talkative and agreeable to the crowd, initially dashing my expectations of him
as some quiet, hermitic mountain man who crafts his own instruments out of
wood he chops down from the wilderness.
That's not to say that his talkativeness meant he wasn't a bit strange. After
the first song he took out a pair of sunglasses and explained to the crowd
that he had gotten a little bored in the van and had bought a pair of
sunglasses. "You see," he said, opening them up to put them on his face, "I
melded a crystal to them to make them look cool." He put on the glasses for a
good part of the set and acted unaware of the flashing crystal that certainly
added to his quirkiness.
He sat center-stage in front of a kick drum; a guitar comfortably rested on
his knee, and a harmonica was strapped around his neck. One walking in mid-set
might imagine a full band on stage based on the full sound emanating through
the crowd, but it was only VanGaalen until he pulled a drummer onstage. Later,
he drew out the same drummer along with Band of Horses for a weird jam session
he'd warned us about after the first few songs.
"We're gonna play a few more songs, and then we're going to jam out a bit." As
some members of the crowd groaned, he explained that he was bored on tour and
tired of playing the same songs night after night. He promised not to "whack
off in [our] faces." When awarded with further groans he added, "I meant that
metaphorically. You see, I don't have a penis."
The majority of the songs VanGaalen played were from Infiniheart.
Naturally, the more intricately crafted songs were left off since VanGaalen
was playing alone, but he did a bang-up job on simpler tracks such as "Blood
Machine" and "I Miss You Like I Miss You." He threw in a cover of
Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" and good-naturedly acknowledged a rude
fan's insistence on the Neil Young comparison by playing half of "Everybody
Knows this is Nowhere." He stopped halfway through, insisting that he didn't
know the whole song.
Then came the mini-jam session. Several unidentified men, later to be revealed
as part of Band of Horses, came out with knowing smiles on their faces; one
picked up a bass, one grabbed a guitar, and one settled down in front of a
laptop. VanGaalen picked up a toy piano and a recorder. An off-kilter bass
line coupled with the drums and midi sequences to provide a weird background
for VanGaalen's manic-sounding recorder and toy piano melodies. It was
ridiculous. And it was so weird and so quirky that I couldn't help but laugh
gleefully while of course noticing all the irritated/bewildered faces of those
in the crowd. I couldn't have asked for a more entertaining set by VanGaalen.
By the end of his set, he had nearly completed the transformation into what
I'd expected him to be in the first place — weird, talented, and quirky — just
much friendlier and accessible than the version I'd pictured.
Band of Horses came out later to an enthusiastic crowd. Their set was quite
uneven. Probably the most anticipated songs, "The Funeral" and "Monsters,"
were not close to perfect, both being performed a little too fast. I got the
idea that the band wasn't comfortable playing the songs at the slower speeds
that they were recorded at, almost like people who are so afraid of silence
that they feel the need to chatter incessantly, if only to prevent those quiet
and uncomfortable spaces. In the case of these songs, the space was much
needed. Their cover of David Allen Coe's "You Never Even Call Me by My Name"
smacked of insincerity, a song by a brawlish country fella imitated by
tattooed city boys trying to sound similarly brawlish and country. However,
Bridwell and co. nailed "The Great Salt Lake" and ELO's "Showdown" and won
over the crowd despite their inconsistencies. They are a band to see live
because I must admit, their highs much outweigh their lows — if due to the
sheer energy of the band, who just seemed friendly and happy to be out playing
Photo: Whitman Dewey-Smith