Solo projects can often be a fascinating vehicle for an established artist to spread their wings a little bit and do things outside of the norm for the band they’re typically identified as a part of. Jim James of My Morning Jacket and Jonsi of Sigur Ros are two of my favorite performers that took a break from their bands to release excellent solo records in the last several years.
Without an album in hand, Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses fame brought his new solo endeavor, Birdsmell, to Bottletree on Monday night. He released a few tracks on Soundcloud a month or so ago that showed great promise for a great evening of music. While not terribly different from his normal Band of Horses fare, the songs were strong and got me excited to see a performer that’s blown up with his band do something new in an intimate setting.
The promise of those new tracks unfortunately didn’t translate to the overall tenor of the show though. I don’t want to give off the impression that the show wasn’t fun or that it wasn’t pretty good, but it was lacking in several key ways. Bridwell didn’t seem particularly prepared for the show. There were several missteps with flubbed lyrics, starting songs in the wrong key, forgetting lyrics, massively out of tune guitars, having to start over, etc. Sure, the evening was supposed to be fun and loose (which it was), but I kind of feel like at $20 a ticket (closer to $25 after service fees) that he should’ve had a bit more organization and polish about his performance. If you want to dick around on stage, charge $10 or $12 and I will walk away entertained and not really caring. Charging $5 less than your full band charged for a tight and professional show roughly six months ago doesn’t sit terribly well with me.
There were covers by the likes of JJ Cale, Magnolia Electric Co. and Florida-Georgia Line (yes, you read that correctly) as well as Band of Horses songs and some Birdsmell songs that he said would never make a Band of Horses record due to lyrical content. Those Birdsmell songs were fun and it was interesting to see Bridwell singing about the seedier side of life in very frank terms. The set was split between him playing solo and him being joined by Matt Gentling (of Arches of Loaf) on bass to give the songs a bit fuller sound.
I’m really kind of torn about how I feel about this show because I had fun and I’m glad I went, but his level of preparation rubbed me the wrong way considering the price and I don’t feel like I’d go see it again unless I read really strong reviews about the show tightening up. I’d also consider going again if the price dropped significantly.