*A version of this post originally appeared online in Crawdaddy! in the Fall of 2009. I can’t find the original link anymore.
Band of Horses – For Taller People?
The lights went out and I turned from a stupid conversation about the street value of a Band of Horses ticket – “could you get a blow job in downtown Oakland for one?” – toward the stage. But I couldn’t see anything. I stared at pant legs and sweaty backs, at the shadowy figures of cretins blocking the stage lights.
This might be a common complaint amongst shorter concert-goers, and it might make for a funny piece to give a dead-pan review of a show that you couldn’t see. But I’m not short. I’m a slightly-above-average-height six-foot male. I’m the one that the girls behind me at concerts complain about after I shift my weight to the other foot (“God, I wish this guy ahead of me would stop moving!”). So this wasn’t just funny. It was very real. Maybe this show was my reckoning day, my repayment for all the frustration I’ve caused and music I’ve ruined over the years.
But I wasn’t alone. One of my friends, who is four inches taller than me, stood on his tip-toes, craning his neck above the silhouettes like a kid trying to peak over his backyard fence at a neighbor tanning by the pool. We looked at each other in astonishment. Even the women were gargantuan, blonde amazons with legs like light poles.
All of this begged a few questions: Do Band of Horses have the tallest average fan base? Do bands’ names attract, either consciously or not, people of named physical proportions? Does Big Head Todd and the Monsters attract big domes? Thin Lizzy waifs? Styx…even waifier folks? Pussy Cat Dolls … I can’t even think about it.
Of course the music itself can account for common physical appearances in any fan demographic. Music drives, or reflects, style: haircuts, clothes, attitude, projected hardness or softness. But I’m not used to the way it might account for such a pronounced physical similarity. It could have been a lot worse I guess, if the similarity were more specific and creepier; if everyone had a hooked nose, or huge ears, or lazy eyes, then I might have cowered in the bathroom for the rest of the show.
It’s something in the music, I reassured myself as I listened through the trees swaying before me. It’s something in the music’s DNA that also flows in the veins of all these tall drinks of water. Maybe the music somehow communicates or reflects the vantage point by which taller people experience the world. Or it could work in reverse; the more you listen to a band the more that band affects your physical appearance. And listening to Band of Horses is like taking air-born horse steroids. Hopefully the former is truer.
For starters, Band of Horses’ songs achieve a contradictory levity and gravity that I suspect tall people might naturally feel. Such feelings warrant comparisons to Built to Spill. But Band of Horses use their swelling guitars a little more sparingly, creating more fragile soundscapes. Built to Spill conjure head-splitting noon-day-sun in August; you have no choice but to give yourself over to the density, to melt. Band of Horses thrive in the slanted light of a Fall morning – a knife blade flush against a cheek – that makes you feel vulnerable. I think these associations stem from the seasons in which I first heard each band, which limits their impact. Fall is the frailest season. It’s also arguably the tallest.
The way Band of Horses toe the line between gravity and levity suggests they have a refined sense of irony. This day in age, when it’s so hip to be ironic that irony is losing meaning, this means being more subtle about one’s irony, so that it isn’t so ironic as to be obvious and lame. The band wears this sensibility in its name. Unlike a blatantly contradictory one like “Built to Spill,” they go with something a little more crooked, just enough to make you cock your head. Are they serious? is a question they can provoke, as in the way they write a heartbreaker titled after the former Seattle Supersonics sharp-shooter, “Detlef Schrempf.” And the way their hooks crescendo with “The dog is gone!” and then “The world is such a wonderful place! La da di da daaa.” Their songs bleed from reverence into irreverence as the severe emotions behind them flat-line or disappear in the altitude, in a wash of harmonized reverb and tinny electric guitar. Although they broach heavy subjects – death and loss and sadness – heaviness turns light. Sad turns happy. Dark turns bright. When they get it right, as they did in their performances of “The Funeral” and “Cigarettes and Wedding Bands,” both songs the Band appears to have rehearsed the shit out of, it gives you chills. And it makes me question if they are ironic at all, or if ironic songs should be able to do that. Like a lot of bands who people mistakenly call “ironic,” I think Band of Horses are deadly serious, at least about their music.
Or maybe they’re the most ironically serious band out there, a contradiction that kind of explains how I feel about a lot of really tall people. A lot of tall people I know tend to be goofy and know it, but they hide their goof behind grave exteriors, to the point that they do so with a hint of irony, so that you can’t even tell the difference anymore. Maybe I’m just working with a really small sample size, and I’m confusing individual personality for a trend, but I have a theory that taller people are more prone to irony than shorter people. Irony requires a perspective removed from sensations or the gravity of feelings. And I think tall people can do this more easily, given their more detached than normal birds-eye view of the earth. I’m guilty of it myself.
The ironically serious have spun out from the nucleus of Indy Rock fandom to its outer orbits. And here, one with the freaks at the Band of Horses show, I see that this torque has stretched us, made us taller. All around me I see folks like myself who can seldom see eye-to-eye with anyone, can seldom share heartfelt feelings and beliefs – unless we come to a Band of Horses show, apparently. Then all is right.