Reviewed on Monday July 25
There were a lot of takeaways from Band Of Horses‘ ill-fated Opera House debut, but this is perhaps the most applicable: if it pertains to your job, never miss a vocal warm-up. Ben Bridwell’s shot voice and palpable frustration emanating from the stage split the audience into two camps: those loyal followers who could feel all of his determination and pain to still put on a show despite obvious setbacks, and those who grew tired of Bridwell’s petulance and wondered why the show wasn’t cancelled in the first place.
Beforehand, Gareth Liddiard’s newly birthed MK-Ultra opened the show as a special request of the main act. Featuring Liddiard on guitar and vocals, while fellow Drones Dan Luscombe and Steve Hesketh backed him with a drum machine and synth noise, their set comprised a range of Liddiard material done in an electroclash style, including some lesser-heard Havilah songs and a cover of ‘Lose The Baby’ by Melbourne’s Lost Animal. The only way the band could have been further from Band Of Horses on the musical spectrum is if it dabbled in fusion jazz. However, for Liddiard fans or just those with an open mind and open ears – judging by the amount of people waiting at the bar outside, there weren’t too many – MK-Ultra were a delightful curio.
When Bridwell and company walked onstage, the singer appeared in high spirits, chatting to the crowd about being the biggest Drones fans in the world and wondering aloud whether he was the first person to ever get a tattoo in the Opera House. But as soon as he started singing opener ‘The Great Salt Lake’, problems were evident. Every big note – those swoon-worthy notes that are the band’s trademark – was strained, followed by Bridwell moving away from the mic, heavily shaking his head and chastising himself. This continued for the rest of the show, with a last-ditch backup plan of guitarist Tyler Ramsey singing one of his compositions (the charming ‘Country Teen’) surfacing as the last song of the main set.
Bridwell didn’t mention any apparent illness, all he offered the crowd were apologies and mentions of how he was going to keep trying. Though Bridwell vocals obviously weren’t at their usual standards, they didn’t hurt the songs too much, especially with the other Horses sounding so locked in. But every missed note seemed to physically and mentally hurt Bridwell, and his frustration soon devolved into throwing stands around.
This is where the schism in the crowd began. Depending on your perspective, it was either a testament to how much Bridwell respected his fans to try to still play a concert, or a childish tantrum that showed a lack of professionalism. Both arguments are valid, but the former is closer to the truth; it was tragic watching Bridwell’s determination get constantly squandered by a natural human limitation. But apart from the few winning moments – a stripped-back ‘No One’s Gonna Love You’ with the crowd taking the vocal reins and a cathartic finale of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘Effigy’ with MK-Ultra in tow – the night will only be remembered with a mixture of sadness and disappointment, the band likely wishing to forget it as soon as possible.
Photo: Christopher Wilson