Home / Show Reviews / Show Review: Band of Horses + White Denim at Central Park Summerstage, September 22 2016

Show Review: Band of Horses + White Denim at Central Park Summerstage, September 22 2016


In a city flush with iconic music venues, there are few more classically New York than Central Park Summerstage. This ain’t the Great Lawn, where acts like Simon & Garfunkel and Billy Joel draw 100,000 geezers to sit on blankets, sip chablis out of a box, and tell the kids to keep it down. No, Summerstage is a relatively intimate outdoor venue called Rumsey Playfield on the Park’s east side, where music and art enthusiasts, surrounded by trees and multi-million-dollar high-rise penthouses, can enjoy free weekend performances by up-and-coming bands, dance troupes, comedians, and such all summer long.

It’s the proceeds from Summertage’s benefit concert series that keep the venue funded, and every year New Yorkers have the opportunity to pony up and see their favorite established acts do their thing under the stars in Manhattan’s backyard. Father John Misty played a memorable show there early in the summer; Ryan Adams killed it in late July. And last night, Band of Horses and White Denim took the stage on a beautiful first-day-of-autumn evening and didn’t disappoint the packed Playfield. (The venue only holds a couple thousand — like I said, relatively intimate — so it doesn’t take much to fill it up.)

White Denim

White Denim kicked off the evening with a blistering set that fully showcased the band’s musical virtuosity and tunesmithing — even if the chatty crowd was still filing in when they started. Despite a catalog full of tight, intricate songs that at first listen can sound like a patchwork of riffs stitched together, guitarist and singer James Petralli isn’t afraid of a hook — just as long as it comes out of nowhere. That’s what makes White Denim so intriguing: “prog-rock” and “hook” are not dirty words to these guys. It’s smart and busy music, but playful; clever with just the right amount of earworm. Yeah, the virtuosity sometimes verges on jammy — but most of the time you can’t stop bouncing along because they keep the tunes short and these songs and beats are so damn catchy. Showcasing material mainly culled from the band’s latest album Stiff and its 2013 release Corsicana Lemonade, Petralli and company satisfied a solid group of fans down front with their forty-minute set. And judging by the many cocked heads and halted conversations it was clear they made a lot of new fans at Summerstage last night,

By the time Band of Horses hit the stage under blue lights and a thick cloud of fake fog, the sky was black and the Playfield was full. The Seattle quintet started slowly, with singer Ben Bridwell seated at a pedal steel guitar and crooning to a pretty, somber piano melody. By the time the band launched into “Casual Party,” the first single from its new album Why Are You OK?, the scruffy Bridwell stood up, strapped on a guitar, and let his high, powerful voice send the crowd into a frenzy. The band curiously tore through a bunch of new songs from Why Are You OK? at the beginning of its set; the album, the band’s best in years, is still relatively new material to a lot of BOH fans, so all we could do with a lot of these tracks was bop along to the beat. But by the set’s halfway point, the band hit its stride and began to delve into its catalog.

It was the material from the band’s 2008 Sub Pop breakthrough Cease to Begin that truly whipped the set into overdrive. With his soaring tenor, Bridwell sounds like the bastard son of a Beach Boy, and indie rock staples such as “Is There A Ghost,” “No One’s Gonna Love You,” “Detlef Schrempf,” and particularly the rave-up “The General Specific” had every voice in the house, er, park singing along with the diminutive frontman. (Okay, okay – perhaps he isn’t that small. But with lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey standing like six-foot-fourteen next to him, Bridwell just seems that much tinier onstage.)

Band of Horses is all hills and valleys — verses of quiet introspection punctuated by arena-sized anthemic choruses, all held together by pretty melodies and Bridwell’s incredible voice. Make no mistake: Band of Horses is Ben Bridwell’s baby. Not only is he the band’s founder and chief songwriter, but that characteristic voice is its music’s lynchpin. The songs and albums are all good, some very and some pretty. But without that voice….

Anyway, the band’s undergone a host of personnel changes over the years, but guitarist/keyboardist Ryan Monroe is BOH’s secret weapon; his backing vocals flesh out Bridwell’s high-pitched tone, lending a heft it doesn’t naturally possess, and his keys give the band’s music a depth that was absent in earlier iterations. Bridwell would be wise to hold onto this crew. They’re tight and polished after a few years together, and clearly having fun onstage. And if the band’s having fun, chances are good that we in the audience are, too.

Band of Horses just started a massive tour behind Why Are You OK? that will take them throughout the US this year and into Europe in spring of 2017. White Denim has a few more US dates scheduled, including this weekend’s Goose Island Block Party in Chicago, before heading off on a European stint. See dates below.

Sep 24 Fillmore w/ Restorations Philadelphia, PA
Sep 25 MidPoint Music Festival Cincinnati, OH
Sep 27 Alabama Theater w/ Frightened Rabbit Birmingham, AL
Sep 28 Thalia Mara Hall w/ The Wild Feathers Jackson, MS
Sep 30 Austin City Limits Austin, TX
Oct 03 Cain’s Ballroom w/ The Wild Feather Tulsa, OK
Oct 04 House of Blues w/ The Wild Feathers Dallas, TX
Oct 06 Stubb’s (Outdoor) Austin, TX
Oct 07 Austin City Limits Austin, TX
Oct 19 North Charleston PAC w/ The Shelters Charleston, SC
Oct 21 The Mill & Mine w/ The Shelters Knoxville, TN
Oct 22 Track 29 w/ The Shelters Chattanooga, TN
Oct 23 The Orange Peel w/ The Shelters Asheville, NC
Oct 26 The NorVa Norfolk, VA T
Oct 27 The Fillmore w/ The Shelters Charlotte, NC
Oct 28 The Fillmore w/ The Shelters Charlotte, NC
Oct 28 Voodoo Music + Arts (Oct 28-30) New Orleans, LA
Nov 03 The Sound Academy w/ Wild Belle Toronto, Canada
Nov 04 The Masonic Temple w/ Wild Belle Cleveland, OH
Nov 05 Murat Theatre w/ Wild Belle Indianapolis, IN
Nov 07 Palace Theater w/ Wild Belle Louisville, KY
Nov 09 The Orbit Room w/ Wild Belle Grand Rapids, MI
Nov 11 Eagels Ballroom w/ Wild Belle Milwaukee, WI
Nov 12 State Theater w/ Wild Belle Minneapolis, MN
Nov 13 Orpheum Theatre w/ Wild Belle Madison, WI
Nov 15 Hoyt Sherman Place Des Moines, IA
Nov 16 Aragon Ballroom w/ Wild Belle Chicago, IL
Nov 19 Corona Capital Fest (Nov 19-20) Mexico City, Mexico
Dec 15 House of Blues Houston, TX
Dec 30 9:30 Club Washington, DC
Dec 31 9:30 Club Washington, DC
Feb 09 Hard Rock Hotel (Feb 9-13) Maya, Mexico
Feb 15 Vicar Street Dublin, Ireland
Feb 16 O2 Academy Glasgow, United Kingdom
Feb 17 O2 Academy Newcastle, United Kingdom
Feb 19 O2 Academy Leeds, United Kingdom
Feb 20 O2 Institute Birmingham, United Kingdom
Feb 21 O2 Academy Bristol, United Kingdom
Feb 23 Troxy London, United Kingdom
Feb 25 X-tra Zurich, Switzerland
Feb 26 Ancienne Belgique Brussels, Belgium
Feb 27 Elysse Montmarte Paris, France
Feb 28 Paradiso Amsterdam, Netherlands
Mar 02 Lucerna Music Bar Prague, Czech Republic
Mar 03 Uebel & Gefährlich Hamburg, Germany
Mar 04 DR Koncerthuset København S, Denmark
Mar 06 Stavanger Konserthus Stavanger, Norway
Mar 07 USF Verftet Bergen, Norway
Mar 09 Annexet Stockholm, Sweden
Mar 10 Malmo Live Malmo, Sweden

SEP 23 Oaktopia Festival Denton, TX
SEP 24 Goose Island Block Party Chicago, IL
SEP 30 Utopiafest Utopia, TX
OCT 1 Utopiafest Utopia, TX
OCT 2 Utopiafest Utopia, TX
OCT 5 ABC1 Glasgow, United Kingdom
OCT 6 Leeds University Union Leeds, United Kingdom
OCT 7 The Ritz Manchester, United Kingdom
OCT 8 The Academy Bristol, United Kingdom
OCT 10 Rock City Nottingham, United Kingdom
OCT 11 Roundhouse London, United Kingdom
OCT 13 Trix Antwerpen, Belgium
OCT 14 La Maroquinerie Paris, France
OCT 15 Doornroosje Nijmegen, Netherlands
OCT 16 Tivoli Vredenburg Utrecht, Netherlands
Rote Fabrik – Clubraum Zurich, Switzerland
OCT 19 WED Covo Club Bologna, Italy

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