Bonny Light Horseman with the London Contemporary Orchestra, The Barbican, London – fifteenth September 2023 – Americana UK

Bonny Light Horseman with the London Contemporary Orchestra, The Barbican, London – 15th September 2023 – Americana UK

It’s fairly a thought that in early 2020 Bonny Light Horseman (Anaïs Mitchell, Eric D. Johnson, Josh Kaufman) might be discovered taking part in in The Lexington – a stunning place in some ways, however on nobody’s record of enormous venues.  It was clear from the beginning that this group had one thing very particular about them, with Kaufman’s imaginative guitar taking part in and Johnson’s world-weary and but optimistic vocals contrasting with Mitchell’s clear and expressive vocals.  Their debut album gave English folks a brand new sound – a barely Fruitbats sound maybe however that’s actually nothing to be upset about – and the follow-up launch of ‘Rolling Golden Holy’ opened issues up with extra of a reliance on band-written songs and a extra American really feel to the Americana on present.   Contemplating that there was a pandemic in between it’s exceptional, and extremely pleasing, that their sound has been taken up – earlier this 12 months there have been back-to-back sold-out gigs at The Union Chapel, and right here we’re in The Barbican, offered out once more and with an Orchestra so as to add a full wealthy sound to the music of Bonny Light Horseman.

The London Contemporary Orchestra is not any small group of gamers they usually had claimed nearly all of the stage, with Bonny Light Horseman grouped collectively on stage left, which served to emphasise that this was a real collaboration – the brand new preparations and music written by Bryce Dessner have been an integral a part of the efficiency, not just a few prettying up and bulking out of the sound.  It additionally emphasizes a close-knit collaboration – it was in spite of everything Bryce Dessner’s brother Aaron (together with Justin Vernon) who helped get Bonny Light Horseman collectively for the Eaux Claires competition in 2018.

Photograph: J. Aird

The band took the stage – Johnson limber and unshaven, Kaufman with the air of a counter-culture inclining educational and Mitchell embracing her inner-Stevie Nicks – and opened proceedings in probably the most stunning manner possible – the opening songs of the latest album, first ‘Exile‘ after which ‘Comrade Sweetheart’.  They are gorgeously seductive – over the gentlest banjo melodies ‘Exile‘ opens with “Love, love, love – the beating of my coronary heart” and there’s that prompt Laurel Canyon hit as Anaïs Mitchell and Eric D. Johnson show what duetting needs to be – so completely in sync’ with one another and clearly having fun with the expertise of singing these songs – there’s no going by way of the motions right here.  As Mitchell opens ‘Comrade Sweetheart‘ it’s straightforward to see the attraction of such a pairing of appellations – to have somebody who’s each issues, a real comrade, a real sweetheart.

Though the orchestra was current on a lot of the songs carried out on this night time there have been a few what one may name band solely interludes – such because the very good ‘Inexperienced Inexperienced Rocky Highway‘ – which allowed the band to simply be themselves and specifically for Josh Kaufman’s guitar to be extra current.  If there was one weak point to this “large band” association it was that there was much less area for  Kaufman to soar – however oh, when he did it was chic.  Bonny Light Horseman as a 5 piece take their folks and folks influenced songs and shake them down spectacularly for the twenty first century – it’s thrilling and thrilling in the way in which that ‘Liege & Lief‘ period Fairport Conference will need to have been with the added American rock touches that typically trace on the Grateful Lifeless’s reinvention of comparable songs.  The folks gospel counting tune of ‘Jane, Jane‘, additionally pulled all the pieces right down to the intimacy of the 5 piece band and it was as if we have been transported to some ’60’s espresso home folks night – or sitting round some Newport competition folks tune campfire.

Photograph: J. Aird

However it’s unarguable that it doesn’t get a lot better than Anaïs Mitchell singing the lead on the light love ballad ‘Fleur De Lis‘ while carried alongside predominantly by the LCO’s string part, counterpointed by Josh Kaufman’s delicate guitar taking part in.  After which, on one more hand, there have been songs the place Kaufman’s strident guitar set off in time with the orchestra, who, he’d jocularly famous, do must typically look ahead to the band, saying: “You guys don’t must tune between songs, it’s superb.”  Such a mix, as on ‘Chilly Rain And Snow‘, had energy – the tune taking over one other dimension of dread, a testomony to Dessner’s preparations.

California‘ gained the sweetest violin introduction including to the hazy and laid again really feel on this tune of regretful loss which simply served to emphasise that good because the band’s eponymous debut had been they’d resolved with ease the “troublesome second album” syndrome with ‘Rolling Golden Holy‘.  Not that the primary album was uncared for – ‘Blackwaterside‘ softly oozed with the suppressed anger at a betrayal, while the tune that Anaïs Mitchell described as a “a tune based mostly on previous texts, but additionally on the plot of an 80’s romance” gave one more magical second: ‘The Roving‘ was all strings and wind part while the mixing of three vocals introduced one more band to thoughts – does three harmonizing vocals and a guitar wizard ring any bells?

Photograph: J. Aird

This was the final of a number of orchestral gigs for Bobby Light Horseman – they’d been supported by the RTE Live performance Orchestra in Eire, additionally below the route of Robert Ames – which naturally sufficient results in hypothesis of a lower than completely satisfied route.  There is one thing of a triumphant celebration a couple of live performance with a full orchestra, a pinnacle second even.  Bonny Light Horseman’s is such a treasured music – and the band’s members are such busy individuals elsewhere – that there had been after the primary album a worry that they’d be a one-off supergroup, a worry that ‘Rolling Golden Holy‘ put paid to.  And fortuitously Eric Johnson was additionally capable of assuage any fears that Bonny Light Horseman have been now planning to exit on a high-note, as he defined that this night time was successfully the final night time of the ‘Rolling Golden Holy‘ tour – however they have been already engaged on a brand new album.  The unasked query remained unanswered although – however one assumes that there will likely be a dwell launch from these concert events sooner or later.

Photograph: J. Aird

The single encore of, naturally, ‘Bonny Light Horseman‘ arrived with a brand new orchestral introduction that plucked on the pastoral – someplace not too far distant from Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne – earlier than Eric Johnson’s harp and Anaïs Mitchell’s expressive voice, and much more expressive hand gestures lead us by way of an ideal rendition of the person woe’s that arose from Napoleon’s grandiose wars.  Fantastically it performed out with the primary violin carrying the chorus coming to a second of silence earlier than the prolonged standing ovation that greeted the ultimate farewells.  And it had been, for sure, a memorable gig and a certainly unlikely to be repeated too quickly ensemble efficiency.  However right here’s to the subsequent time, and the subsequent evolution of what one can safely describe because the main folk-rock band of the last decade.

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