Relationship tip: find someone who looks at you the way a Band of Horses fan looks at Ben Bridwell. Or vice versa, for that matter. When the group posted their handcrafted set list on Twitter, followers were quick to notice that they’d gone through their last Glasgow show – from back in November 2012 – and purposefully avoided overlaps. If you’re going to love a band, why not pick one that loves you back?
The climax of their 20-song set at the O2 Academy came in the form of last year’s single, In a Drawer. As calm verses gave way to a chorus that hit with all the impact of an unexpected kiss at a high school disco, the whole fanbase blurred into one lip-synchin’, fist-pumpin’, foot-stompin’, hand-clappin’, Southern-rock-lovin’ entity. The band were loving it too: NW Apt. was as driving as a Glaswegian rainstorm, with four guitarists singing and strumming away at once, while Bridwell was all smiling, shaking face in the forlorn waltz of Cigarettes, Wedding Bands.
If Band of Horses were there to make you forget your troubles, opener Israel Nash seemed largely to want to remind you of them. The melancholic wistfulness of many of Nash’s numbers wasn’t going to carry away a crowd at the best of times, and much of the audience passed his tight half-hour set in chatty reunions or checking their mobiles.
Crucially, Nash’s wall of folk sound had here been refashioned for mainly solo vocals and a pair of guitars – acoustic and slide – but few of the songs seemed to survive the translation well. The overall effect was of a boldly Technicolor film being shown in monochrome, and only the concluding cover of I Shall Be Released made everything cohere: the stripped-down sound finally clicked, Nash wringing a solitary audience whoop of recognition and ceasing to be a small man in a denim jacket shouting to fill the space.
But while Israel Nash built towards his finale, Band of Horses grew more subdued and elegiac the longer they went on. While it would be hard to deny the power of The Funeral – dedicated here to ‘Scotland’s own Danny MacAskill’ – the audience became noticeably thinner in its wake. As Bridwell returned to the stage to hit a tambourine with a drumstick for the encore of The General Specific, many were still dancing on the floor. But others were clapping their hands as they headed towards the doors; stamping, singing along, leaving.