By Chris Kornelis
Seattle will always lay claim to Band of Horses — and it has every right to. Frontman Ben Bridwell formed the band here after the demise of his former, beloved local act, Carissa’s Wierd, and the group’s 2006 Sub Pop debut, “Everything All the Time,” is a mile marker of Northwest rock ’n’ roll.
From the anthemic howls of “Funeral” to the lushness of “I Go to the Barn Because I Like The,” it’s easily one of the best albums to come out of this city in the last 10 years.
No amount of relocation, lineup changes and unfortunate melodies can take that away from the band or the city. Which is fortunate, because there has been plenty of all of the above.
After the release of “Everything,” Bridwell eventually moved to South Carolina and the band has been in a creative — if not commercial — downward spiral ever since. The band’s latest release, “Acoustic at the Ryman,” magnifies that situation.
A friend once astutely observed that concerts booked as “An Evening With …” performances are often nothing more than the “the slow, boring” version of songs you loved in the original incarnation. “Acoustic at the Ryman” isn’t just slow and boring, it’s overwrought and uninspired.
This isn’t a function of dynamics or instrumentation. Pop music is rife with gripping, hushed tunes. But Bridwell has simply turned down the volume without offsetting that with anything noteworthy, which he could have done by giving his crackerjack band a little more room to roam. Instead, he keeps them on a predictably short leash, which is a shame. Letting guitarist Tyler Ramsey run wild the way he does on his solo records could be the remaking of the band.
While live albums offer an opportunity for reinterpretation and can reveal a song or performer’s nuance and ingenuity, “Ryman” offers neither. This isn’t less is more. This is less is less. Much less. By laying these songs bare, Bridwell is exposing his weaknesses and little else. His voice is like his songwriting: Neither is particularly strong or interesting, yet when employed with his full-octane band, both have the power to be transcendent.
Band of Horses is at its best when it’s displaying its range, with bottle-smashing bashers sidled up alongside subtle harmonies — sometimes in the same song. “Ryman” is homogenization with a set of strings.
Regardless, fans who can’t get enough “Funeral” will surely swoon for the band’s bland acoustic versions in any shape when the band brings “Ryman” to the Moore on Sunday, even if it is performed by tattooed men in cowboy boots whimpering in unison.
8 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 16, at the Moore Theatre, 1932 Second Ave., Seattle. Sold out (206-467-5510 or stgpresents.org).
Chris Kornelis is a Seattle-based writer and editor.