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Concert review: Band of Horses unplugged at the Merriam Theater

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It wasn’t hard imagining yourself sitting in one of the musicians living room last Saturday night when Band of Horses’ played to a sold-out crowd at the Merriam Theater. The cozy stage was decked out with lamps, coffee tables, record players, red cups and rugs. It was the perfect setup for a band that looked at home and beautifully comfortable throughout their two-hour performance.

This stop in Philadelphia was part of a tour to support their newest project, “Acoustic At The Ryman,” a set of perfectly picked songs, recorded last year at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Theater, stripped down to the core. Saturday night saw distortion, electric guitars and full drum sets removed from their sound and replaced with pianos, mandolins, banjos, acoustic guitars, standup bass and brush drumming.

Frontman Ben Bridwell and bass player Bill Reynolds took the stage first to play “St. Augustine” – a tune that was already made perfect for a night like this and one that was able to set the theme for much of what was to come. After the last note was played, guitarist Tyler Ramsey and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Monroe joined Bridwell and Reynolds and, while adding guitar and mandolin, harmonized with Bridwell around a single microphone for “Part One.” When drummer Creighton Barrett finally took to the stage for the third song in - “Monsters” – the rest of the band had sunk into their seats ready to relax for the rest of the evening.

This acoustic show might not have been based around new songs, but the fantastic re-workings of old favorites presented fans with something entirely different and exciting. Some of the songs were already recorded acoustically, but for those that were originally full of distortion, like “The General Specific” and “Ode To LRC,” the acoustic arrangements gave them an entirely new life and feel. “The Funeral,” played during the encore, was a highlight of the night. The song, stripped of all the distorted guitars and pounding drums, was turned into a lovely piano ballad.

Throughout the low-key night, the band was joyful and offered humorous banter, albeit sometimes hard to hear. Bridwell’s vocals were pitch-perfect and never faltered during the 20 songs played. For the most part, and not surprisingly, the set list pulled heavily from their first two albums, “Everything All The Time” and “Cease To Begin.” Only two from their latest effort of new songs, 2012's “Mirage Rock,” made it into the set - “Everything’s Gonna Be Undone” and “How To Live.”

Setlist:

“St. Augustine”
“Part One”
“Monsters”
“The Great Salt Lake”
“Marry Song”
“Detlef Schrempf”
“Ode to LRC”
“Everything's Gonna Be Undone”
“Weed Party”
“A Song for You”( Gram Parsons cover)
“Older”
“Laredo”
"No One's Gonna Love You”
“Factory”
“Compliments”
“How to Live”
“The General Specific”
Encore:
“Evening Kitchen”
“The Funeral”
“Is There a Ghost”

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