Is it hard being an opener? I imagine it is. I imagine nailing that opening set is more of an art than we make it out to be. There’s the limited stage space, performing to half-empty theaters, grappling with the disaffected energy in the room, not playing to your target audience, the reality that no one’s all that drunk yet, the feeling you have to win over the crowd — and a bevy of other concerns and limitations. For The Besnard Lakes, they were faced with the usual opener hurdles at Chicago’s Riveria Theater, and bounded over each one for a mature and shining set. Their 45 minutes on stage cast a shadow over Band of Horses‘ set, which was for the most part underwhelming and homogeneous. I would safely say that I came into this concert with a solid knowledge of both bands material and an eagerness for either to improve. TBL rose to the challenge and BoH just fell short.
Though maybe I was destined to like The Besnard Lakes more. They opened with a loop of Carl Sagan intoning, For the first time, we have the power to decide the fate of our planet and ourselves. This is a time of great danger, but our species is young, and curious, and brave. It shows much promise. Im a softy for Sagan, so they could have just not played note one and I would have sung their praises all the way home. A band’s Entrance Music is their first impression on a crowd, and like a quote in the first pages of the book, sets the theme for the story to come. The Sagan loop gradually shrunk until it was just repeating, “This is a time of great danger.”
It doesn’t matter if you’re 16 or 60, TBL frontman Jace Lasek looks like what you’d imagine your dad might have looked like before you were born. Lasek dwarfs his wife and songwriting partner Olga Goreas, but to be fair, her bass dwarfs her as well. The two trade off vocal duties, adding harmonies to eachother’s leads, but there is a third member in the form of Lasek’s falsetto. The opening sounds from the band were layered with feedback and harmonious noise and like another guitar squealing off, Lasek’s head voice pierced through, pitch perfect, haunting. First song from their latest LP …Are The Roaring Night “Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent” showcased the best parts of the band in one long, arching swoop: experimental noise, chugging drums, guitar-centric rock and roll, tight three part harmonies, and gradual build that bubbles but never boils over.
Part post-rock, part 70’s AOR, part southern roots rock, part 90’s noise-rock, The Besnard Lakes are meant to be heard loud — like, blasted out of the trunk of your IROC-Z in a gravel parking lot while drinking Blatz-loud. Failing that, hearing the thumping bass and cranked guitars out of sound system at The Riv is perfect. The blend of music hitting your chest is perfect. The audience wasn’t moving, and were rather inattentive, but live, The Besnard Lakes come off the page making their studio recordings pale in comparison.
Maybe it’s me, but each song sounded like it was their second to last song of the night. I’m not saying this pejoratively, either, there’s just this unfinished quality about their music that is really engaging and foreboding. Perhaps it’s because TBL don’t have any radio singles or barn-burners that we all look forward to. The whole concert I felt like I was waiting for some resolution from the tension they created.
It partially came at the end with their most up-tempo track to date, “And This Is What We Call Progress.” But the Montreal boys like their rock slow roasted, so the audience was still just nodding their heads a long. I like that they pace themselves, and that they’re not bombastic. I like that when Lasek solos, his face is expressive. I like that there’s a steadfast authenticity about The Besnard Lakes, and they come off as an unfinished story, one I’m all too eager to keep listening to.
Band of Horses, on the other hand, feel like they’ve already told their story again and again. Their songs seem rehashed and a little stale and tinny. A few weeks back, Daniel Kohn loved their show at The Greek in LA and I wished I were there. I believe you need to see Band of Horses on a summer night with that girl or guy you like and have some beers and chill out. In a theater, BoH seems false. They tried real hard, and Ben Bridwell sounds incredible (he smokes during the show and still sings like that? Some people are predisposed to be frontmen.), but it was all too one-note for me: collegiate and saccharine. Bridwell’s acoustic performance of “Evening Kitchen” and “No One’s Gonna Love You” and awesome cover of Cee-Lo’s “Georgia” were heads and shoulders the freshest thing on the setlist.
Photography by Josh Darr.
Besnard Lakes setlist:
Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent Pt. 1: The Ocean
Like The Ocean, Like The Innocent Pt. 2: The Innocent
And This Is What We Call Progress
Band of Horses setlist:
Evening Kitchen (acoustic)
No One’s Gonna Love You (acoustic)
Cigarettes, Wedding Bands
The Great Salt Lake
Islands on the Coast
The General Specific
Is There A Ghost?
Ode to LRC
The First Song
Gallery by Josh Darr