If rock radio still had the power to break young groups, Band of Horses would be more than a boldface name on year-end lists. Were rock 'n' roll a contemporary mainstream force instead of a low-wattage niche, Band of Horses would be poised for greatness. Imagine that the record industry wasn't going to hell in a handbasket - scroll back 10 or 20 years - and it's easy to see the South Carolina (by way of Seattle) band in line for a long, gratifying career in the mold of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.
With gritty roots, real feel for melody, and a deep affinity for anthems and waltzes, Band of Horses smacks of staying power, if there is such a thing. These days, with a little luck, those selling points will at least launch a group to indie-darling status and a sold-out gig at the Paradise Rock Club.
Band of Horses is touring behind its second album, "Cease to Begin," and played a pitch-perfect, 90-minute set of new songs Wednesday night, as well as a handful from 2006's "Everything All the Time." If the show-closing cover of Chicago's "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" seems like a left-field choice, consider the group's other cover tune of choice: Hall & Oates's "You Make My Dreams."
These aren't ironic hipster gestures; they're sincere musical moments. By willfully drawing attention to its connection with history's pop hitmakers, Band of Horses stakes its claim to a musical map that stretches beyond cults and nightclubs. "Is There a Ghost" opens the new album like a dust-flecked, candy-coated gust of reverb, and it kicked off the live show with a bracing blast of joyful noise. The rest of the set toggled thoughtfully between majestic anthems like "Great Salt Lake," languid ballads ("Marry Song"), the wild, winsome midtempo of "Cigarettes, Wedding Bands," and one lighter-waving epic ("No One's Gonna Love You") that Coldplay's Chris Martin wishes he had thought of first.
Solos were non-existent. Between-song banter was minimal. Opening act Tyler Ramsey, who has joined Band of Horses as the touring guitarist, layered dreamy harmonies on top of frontman Ben Bridwell's windswept tenor, but that was the beginning and end of the ornamentation. Everything was pared down except the power of the songs and the length of the beards.
But don't let the facial hair fool you. Like the love child of Neil Young and the Shins, or the Band and the Flaming Lips, or any combination of rootsy rockers and quirky pop craftsmen you prefer, Band of Horses makes earthy, beautiful rock music for the masses.