When is a "secret show" too secret? When the headline act is Grammy-nominated alt-rock band Band of Horses and the line to enter the show has less people in it than the one outside the West Coast Tacos truck at lunchtime. As the surprisingly small crowd gathered in the IMA's parking garage to avoid the seemingly-impending rain, it certainly seemed that the two corporate entities presenting the show, IZOD and GQ, had been far too quiet about it (although the IMA's Facebook page made clear Friday that the first 500 fans would get in).
However, the sparseness of the crowd worked out nicely and gave the free concert a relaxed, garden-party kind of atmosphere, while the Charleston, S.C.-via-Seattle-based band put on an electrifying 90-plus minute show for the roughly 300 or so fans that ended up gathering in the terraced lawn of the IMA's amphitheater.
The group opened with the first song from their first album, the aptly-named "The First Song," blasting the crowd with their characteristically heart-broken yet powerful wall of sound and lead singer Ben Bridwell's yelping vocals. The group went on to play a full array of hits from all three of their albums that left even the most die-hard BoH fans satisfied — and that left Bridwell's shaggy hair soaking with sweat on the first misty, humid night of the summer.
Following up quickly with another of their early hits, "The Great Salt Lake," the band then busted out "Islands on the Coast," with Bridwell and fellow guitarist Tyler Ramsey facing each other, guitar-to-guitar, almost dueling as they tapped out the song's opening sequence. Bridwell took periodic pauses between songs to tell the crowd how much fun he was having and also to jokingly apologize for the band's lack of practice before the impromptu show, all in his laid-back Southern drawl that added to the casual informality of the evening.
Moving on to cuts like the grungier "Ode to LRC," and then to the smooth, swaying sentimentality of "Factory," the band showed their depth but still kept the energy strong. Toward the end of the evening, the group played "Laredo," the top single from their latest album, Infinite Arms, before moving on to the country-influenced "Marry Song," with Ramsey working deftly on the lap steel.
Due to the monolithic nature of their sound, BoH's tracks tended to blur together as the show wore on, but they ultimately brought the house down, closing with "No One's Gonna Love You," and, finally, "Funeral," perhaps the band's best known track. That pace-shifting, emotionally wide-ranging ballad represents BoH at their best, and put a fitting end to a long, well-wrought and energetic show.
Ramsey opened the night with an acoustic/electric solo set featuring songs from what he said is an upcoming album, calling BoH drummer Creighton Barrett on to accompany him for one song. Barrett's appearance on the drum kit injected life into what was otherwise an unremarkable performance by Ramsey. Despite his flawless guitar work — both solo and with the band later — his solo songwriting simply lacked inspiration and his lyrics came off as one-dimensional.