Live Review: Band of Horses w/ MK-Ultra @ Sydney Opera House
Band of Horses’ Monday night gig at the Sydney Opera House was a true rock band experience. The performance was electric, the music turned up to 11, but the lead vocalist struggled through the show and the before act managed to clear out the hall.
Their long awaited Sydney debut came off their Splendour In The Grass performance and their recent album ‘Why Are You OK’. It was certainly a great performance, but one that has divided fans who attended the show.
The first act of the night was the newly formed MK-Ultra, who were playing their second ever live show. The trio were all initially in The Drones but dropped the live drummer to form the new band. Their loud, garage-rock noise was out of place in the Sydney’s most prestigious venue and didn’t connect with the Opera House clientele. Even their slower ballads were marred by the harsh voice of lead singer Gareth Liddiard. The band certainly had a few fans in the audience, but for many it was not a great start to the evening.
Band of Horses entered the stage and frontman Ben Bridwell quickly built a rapport with the audience. They were waving to their fans and seemed honoured to be playing in the venue, which got the audience on their side early. This connection with the audience was needed because by the end of the first song The Great Salt Lake, it was clear that lead singer Ben Bridwell had lost his voice.
Luckily Ben had enough natural charisma and energy to pull it off. He promised straight up to the audience on multiple occasions “I will not give up on you” and for the rest of the night he kept true to his word. He kept trying and pushing through the songs, enlisting the help of fellow guitarist Tyler Ramsey to get the lyrics out.
The audience kept cheering for Bridwell and helped him along as he ran through a mix of tracks from their albums. Songs like Detlef Schrempf and In a Drawer were sung with high energy and the band really felt like they had it together. They were a well-rehearsed machine that easily transitioned between rock ballads, heavy rock, and even on occasion the deeper country style songs from their back catalogue.
However, Bridwell’s mounting frustration was increasingly apparent. Between every song all the audience could hear was “f*ck” and the occasional tantrum -, throwing microphones, kicking music stands into the front row, and in the case of For Annabelle even hurling the harmonica at the drum kit.
There are many well-documented cases of other artists cancelling gigs when the lead vocalist has lost his voice. Despite Bridwell’s clear frustrations he did persevere. He kept promising us he would do it, and he did. He managed to get through 10 tracks before two separate encores. Many of the audience thought it was over and left after he passed the torch to lead guitarist Tyler Ramsey to sing Country Teen as he walked off stage.
However, the fans stayed and were rewarded when he came back on to do a stripped back acoustic version of No One’s Gonna Love You with Ramsey, the two of them leaning into one microphone and giving the standout performance of the night.
Ben’s strained singing wasn’t pitch perfect but to the crowd of fans that wasn’t important. He had come back to perform it and the audience gave him a standing ovation. The remaining band members returned to the stage to sing Funeral before leaving the stage again, we thought for the last time.
We were to be treated to a second encore though, complete with the full band and MK-Ultra as they closed out the show together in a guns-blazing, guitar riffing finale. The audience left with mixed reactions, but no-one was angry. No-one was screaming for their money back or angry at Bridwell for not being able to reach all of his notes. He kept trying and there’s nothing an Aussie likes more than a battling underdog. They gave it their all and it was clear there was nothing left in them by the time they left the stage for the third and last time.