BREVIEW: Band of Horses @ O2 Institute 20.02.18

BREVIEW: Band of Horses @ O2 Institute 20.02.18 / Reuben Penny - Birmingham Review

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Words by Damien Russell / Pics by Reuben Penny

I’d largely forgotten what it was like to be so focused on a band that you let your pint get warm. Especially at what is rapidly approaching six quid a time.Birmingham Review

I walked into the Band of Horses gig with an open mind, having decided to take my friend whose birthday it was not knowing that she loved Band of Horses. A happy accident, but one that left with a 40-minute drive and a lot of waxing lyrical about how good they are. I try not to believe any kind of hype and make my own mind up; not having seen Band of Horses before, I nodded and smiled in all the right places but would leave it to the band to do the real talking.

The evening seemed a bit flat on the run up to the main event; slow to get people in, quite a subdued support band, sedate lighting. So when Band of Horses came on and launched into a slow number, I wasn’t holding out much hope.

Sometimes it’s good to be wrong.

Band of Horses finished the first half of what turned out to be called ‘Dull Times/The Moon’ (you got me guys) and then launched into the second half which opened the set proper. And it was a launch. They hit the audience with song after song for 30 minutes plus, without even stopping to let a full round of applause ring out and with the instrument changes they throw in. That’s no mean feat.

BREVIEW: Band of Horses @ O2 Institute 20.02.18 / Reuben Penny - Birmingham ReviewI was impressed. You may be able to tell. That level of polish and co-ordination takes a lot of work and a lot of gigs to get right; it’s clear that while Band of Horses might not be making leaps in innovation musically, they are a professional and dedicated outfit.

They also have a new album to promote, Why Are You OK, but interspersed the set well with classics; all the new material was consolidated into the first half of the set, leaving the second half for crowd pleasers. A reward for being patient with the new material. And I don’t feel like we needed it. I think Why Are You OK has some strong songs on it the band playing them fresh on this tour, and the few gigs they did last year, did them proud.

The first half of the set had some great dynamic shifts too, with the straight through approach feeling more like a stage show than a race to the end. We had ‘Solemn Oath’, ‘Casual Party’, ‘Country Teen’ and ‘Throw My Mess’ off the new record, side by side with ‘The Great Salt Lake’, ‘Marry Song’, ‘Laredo’ and more from the back catalogue. I couldn’t help feeling it drop off a bit about halfway though.

BREVIEW: Band of Horses @ O2 Institute 20.02.18 / Reuben Penny - Birmingham ReviewBy the time ‘In A Drawer’ was performed, the last song they played off the new album, things had settled down a bit and lost a little momentum. Still high quality material, just that compared to the grand entrance the peak had passed and what I would normally expect to be a big build up to the real big crowd pleasers, was more of a stroll.

But the crowd pleasers are just that and left everyone on a high, with the live rendition of ‘Is There A Ghost’ being especially good. I had heard rumours Band of Horses were not doing encores for some of the gigs on this tour and I wondered if they would for us. But they didn’t disappoint; ‘The Funeral’ ended the set, and with a roaring applause the evening.

They look like truckers, they play like rockers and they put a setlist together well. But the lull in the middle was shame and if I’m honest, they’ve stayed true to form and kept to their own brand of Southern Rock without too much change or re-invention.

Overall, Band of Horses came over as a relaxed group who put on a good show; I would absolutely recommend seeing them if you ever get the chance.


For more on Band of Horses, visit

For more from the O2 Institute, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit

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BPREVIEW: Band of Horses @ O2 Institute 20.02.18

BPREVIEW: Band of Horses @ O2 Institute 20.02.18

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Words by Damien Russell

On the 20th of February, Band of Horses will be performing at the O2 Institute – playing in Birmingham as part of 7 UK/Ireland dates on their international tour.Birm_Prev-logo-MAIN

Doors will be opening at 19:00 and tickets are £25.75 (plus booking fees) as presented by SJM Concerts. For direct gig info, including venue details and online ticket sales, click here.

For those of you not already familiar with Band of Horses there’s a fair amount of catching up to do. The band formed in 2004 and in their 13 years have had 6 studio albums and 1 Grammy nomination. They have also had 8 line-up changes, although band leader Ben Bridwell has remained constant throughout.

BPREVIEW: Band of Horses @ O2 Institute 20.02.18Band of Horses hit the ground running with their first album Everything All The Time, a minor hit that charted internationally – even in Scandinavia, where it found the lower reaches of both Sweden and Norway’s national album charts. The band’s debut single, ‘The Funeral’, has been used in numerous television series, films, video games, and advertisements.

Their successes continued and their third album, Infinite Arms, was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best Alternative Album category. The LP also and featured in the Best Albums of 2010 lists from Q Magazine (#21), NPR Listeners (#15), Filter Magazine (#10) and Paste Magazine (#14). The song ‘Laredo’ was placed at No28 in Rolling Stone Magazine’s top 50 songs of 2010.

Band of Horses’ sixth and latest album, Why Are You OK,  was released in June 2016 and brings the band back to a fuller sound. In an interview with, Ben Bridwell said; “I wanted to pore over it and explore some more sincere themes, instead of speaking in riddles so no one knows what I’m talking about. That was fuelling the fire and that takes time.”

For a pre-gig taster, check out Band of Horses’ latest single, ‘Solemn Oath’ – released on June 10th 2016.

Band of Horses perform at the O2 Institute on Monday 20th February, as presented SJM Concerts. For direct gig info and online tickets sales, click here.


For more on Band of Horses, visit

For more from the O2 Institute, including full event listing and online ticket sales, visit

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BREVIEW: Michael Oesterle @ CBSO Centre 18.11.16

Michael Oesterle @ CBSO Centre 18.11.16 / By Reuben Penny © Birmingham Review




Words by Sam James / Pics by Reuben Penny

One of the benefits of having the Conservatoire in town, as a fan of contemporary music, is that composers and musicians from around the world are drawn to our city to give lectures and concerts.

Last week, the Canadian composer Michael Oesterle was in residence, giving talks and master classes to students. On a nippy November evening at the CBSO Centre, the week was brought to a close with the Conservatoire’s contemporary music group, the Thallein Ensemble, performing two Oesterle works, as well as a number of homegrown pieces.

One of the Oesterles opened the night; named for the composer’s relationship with America’s Golden State, ‘California’ was a kaleidoscope of a piece. Constantly shifting shapes and patterns, somehow always giving the same overall effect. However, the upshot of this is that despite the lack of obvious repetition on a larger scale, the piece began to feel a little same-y towards the end. Nevertheless, a unique sonic landscape.

Next up was the first of two world premières on the bill: ‘Navigations’ by Peter Bell. Accompanied by a rather cryptic programme note that touched on (but didn’t fully explain) Aboriginal Australian melodies and musical cartography, the piece began simply, with a little claves duet from the percussionists, sat either side of the conductor. Quickly gaining in complexity, this was a fantastically colourful piece, full of counterpoint and clever ensemble writing.

As a composer myself, I know it can be hard to title a piece of music. You have spent so long crafting every aspect of the work that condensing all those abstract ideas into one or two words can be tough. However, when a composer opts to name their music ‘Untitled’ or, as in the case of Patrick Ellis’ work on tonight’s programme, ‘Unnamed Ensemble Piece’, it feels like something of a cop out – the equivalent of naming your pub quiz team ‘Insert Quiz Team Here’. Having said that, Ellis’ piece (another world première) was brilliant. A series of sentences and punctuation that gradually turned in on itself until the punctuation became the content and the sentences the punctuation.

If ‘Unnamed Ensemble Piece’ wasn’t literal enough a title for you, then perhaps Seán Clancy’s ‘Five to Forty Seconds’ will hit the mark? Original research by the composer (sitting in an art gallery for eight hours) turned up that most punters spend between five and forty seconds looking at each piece of art in a gallery. Clancy’s piece, for violin and piano, takes this idea and applies it faithfully, with each segment lasting between, you guessed it, five and forty seconds.

When a piece wears its process on its sleeve like this, it is hard not to sit and count the seconds instead immersing yourself in the material. Fortunately, the material was interesting, and did indeed feel something like a walk through a gallery. Different Michael Oesterle @ CBSO Centre 18.11.16 / By Reuben Penny © Birmingham Reviewstyles and mediums connected by a curator, drawing you in a particular direction, linking ideas together in unexpected ways.

Closing the night was the second Oesterle piece, ‘Babbitt’. Written for a slightly larger ensemble than the other works on the programme, the orchestration and colour the composer uses made it sound almost orchestral, despite there being only a dozen or so players on stage. Enormously colourful, the piece gave each musician a turn in the spotlight, each having their own say in the overarching narrative of the work.

It is interesting to me that the main difference between the works by students and those by their professional counterparts was not in the polish of the pieces – in fact, I was impressed by the calibre of music from everyone – but in the presentation.

The programme notes for the pieces by Clancy and Oesterle were far more engaging and added something to their pieces, without having to spell everything out. It is easy to say that an artist’s work should speak for itself, but perhaps an artist ought to be able to speak too. 


Words by Ed King

At the end of a side street is a simple piece of magic. The CBSO Centre: nestled between the city’s fabrications and dreams, between Broad Street and the Registry Office, this purpose built centre of learning and expertise is a gift to us all. And you’re OK to wear trainers. I should remember that.

Tonight we have a guest composer from Canada, Michael Oesterle, presenting two original pieces – alongside new work from a Conservatoire triptych: Peter Bell, Patrick Ellis, Seán Clancy. Oesterle has been visiting the Conservatoire all week and tonight’s concert is his goodbye gift to the city, conducted by Richard Baker and performed by the Thallein Ensemble.

I’m late, of course, and make it through the frustratingly revolving doors just in time not to be noticed. As we settle into our seats I look around through the corners of my eyes, feeling slightly naked without a student card or season ticket. The room is half full and inviting; I question why I’ve sat in this audience only a handful of times before.

The first piece tonight is ‘California’, our introduction to the guest composer. With an immediate string lead, a playful dissonance jumps in and around itself. I’m not musically trained so there may be much that I miss, but I have ears, a heart, sometimes purple prose and an oddly continuous apology. Not that these help me distinguish a violin from a viola. But the well natured cacophony, from Oesterle’s homage to a state that ‘felt like possibility’, reminds me of things busy and beautiful. A carnival in daytime, a street lost under maple leaves, the emotions on a train station concourse – all full of colour and confusion. The ensemble dances through itself and back over the top, possibly like California although I’ve never been.

Peter Bell’s ‘Navigations’ is presented next, with a staggered introduction from opposing claves. The stings and woodwind build a wall of brooding intent, like a slow horror, before the brass duo – trumpet and trombone – punch out a warning on the horizon. I’m intrigued by Peter Bell’s work and (alongside Patrick Ellis’s) have been keen to explore his composition tonight. I am not disappointed, even though this dark introduction feels like it misses its mark at its finale. I will be back though, Mr Bell.

Then it’s Patrick Ellis, with an unnamed piece that throws out immediate confidence and challenges. I don’t know precisely why, but I’m quickly hooked: the marimbas enter into a cat and mouse struggle with the smaller string section, whilst the flute runs across the fractured ice surface. And although it feels a little lost at points, like a fish struggling to chew through its own cheek I find an acute pleasure in the freedom of it all. With silence as its final member the ensemble sound like their having fun too. I know I am.

cbso-logo-transSeán Clancy’s ‘Five to Forty Seconds’ is the penultimate piece tonight, stripping the ensemble back to a Steinway piano and violin. The composition’s name is taken from the premise that ‘people spend between five and forty observing each piece of art in a gallery space’, with Clancy penning a series of passionate bursts for his duet. But I’m not thinking about the dethatched appreciation of static images; this is a fight or a fuck. An argument and agreement, delivered in awesome unison – yet goading each other with extreme violence and intent. At least it is to me, and despite a fade out that feels little like short change… awesome.

And finally, ‘Babbit’ – Michael Oesterle’s ‘narrative in search of a protagonist’. Which is precisely what it is. A wider ensemble take their places, with a rhythm guitar brought in for the first time tonight, and jump into the composition like shattering glass. There is no lead, no set, just immediate relationships – picked up and lost with aggression and whim.

Not being a musician I have no idea the challenges this piece brings, but there is a palpable step up as each member of the ensemble spits out notes that battle each other for prominence. The guitar plucks its way to the forefront, before the marimbas turn from subtle to inescapable. A glorious war is unfurling. The brass instruments take the first real charge, using their louder voices to stamp out a short authority. But they soon step back; the ensemble acquiesces to their tantrum and embraces them once more. Now it’s the string section’s turn, as a violin manages to break through and fly like a broken bird – screaming and singing, higher and higher, before the enviable fall back to  earth.

Then oddly, and almost too contrarily, a warm wave passes over us – exposing it’s colder waters, but still soft and inviting. Is this the end, is this an end; have I blackout out and fallen into another composition? But no, one last aggressive stand from the battling brass and the dream is broken. Babbit concludes.

I am quicker to leave the CBSO Centre that I was to arrive, cocooning myself in cotton before heading out into the disturbing winter that seems to be stealing our days. It’s always cold. But on the walk home I feel strangely buoyant. I heard some beautiful music tonight, not just from the man on the front of the programme but from some of our city’s home grown composers – whose contributions were amongst the most pertinent reasons to go. And even without a Grade 8 in my lunchbox, I was allowed to play too.

New territories can be odd and isolating to explore from the fringes, but often that’s only perception. I consider myself a confident man but I’ve had this before, talking jazz standards or rock classics. But Birmingham has a horde of musical talent and precocity, with their endevours being showcased right there in the centre of town. Plus the wine’s reasonably priced and there are no bouncers or dress code. All you have to do is turn up. Just preferably on time.

For more on Michael Oesterle, visit

For more from Peter Bell, visit

For more from Patrick Ellis, visit

For more from Seán Clancy, visit

To follow Richard Baker, visit

For more from the CBSO Centre, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit 


BPREVIEW: Michael Oesterle @ CBSO 18.11.16

Michael Oesterle @ CBSO 18.11.16




Words by Ed King

On Friday 18th November, Michael Oesterle performs at the CBSO alongside new compositions from Peter Bell, Patrick Ellis, Seán Clancy – as presented by Frontiers. The conductor will be Richard Baker with the Thallein Ensemble.birm_prev-logo-main-lr

Doors open at 7:30pm, with standard tickets charged at £10 (advance) and £12 (otd). For direct gig info & online ticket sales, click here.

Born in Germany, but living and working from Canada since 1982, Michael Oesterle studied composition at the University of British Columbia. Later he earned his doctorate from Princeton University – under the supervision of American composer Paul Lansky and Dutch composer Louis Andriessen.

Post PHD, Michael Oesterle established himself internationally; alongside a significant portfolio in Canada, Oesterle’s music has been performed across Europe and North America by ensembles including Julliard New Music Ensemble (New York, US), Continuum (London, UK) and Les Percussions de Strasbourg (Strasbourg, France) and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Montreal, Canada).

Described by Simon Bertrand at as ‘reminiscent of the music of some American minimalist composers (e.g., John Adams or Terry Riley)’ Michael Oesterle’s work explores ‘varied sonorities, sophisticated use of timbres, and postmodern techniques’.

In residence at Birmingham Conservatoire for the week, this Frontiers programmed/CBSO hosted event on Friday 18th November will be a chance for the general public to see Michael Oesterle perform two original compositions: ‘California’, ‘Babbitt’.

The composition featured below, titled ‘Carrousel’, was written by Oesterle as a quartet for Glockenspiel, Vibraphone, Marimba, and Piano. It was premièred at Koerner Hall, Toronto in 2013 – performed by Haruka Fujii, Rika Fujii, Gregory Oh, Ryan Scott.

‘Carrousel’ – Michael Oesterle

Michael Oesterle performs at the CBSO on Friday 18th November, alongside new compositions from Peter Bell, Patrick Ellis, Seán Clancy – as presented by Frontiers. For direct gig info & online ticket sales, click here.

For more on Michael Oesterle, visit

For more from Frontiers, including their ongoing programme of events, visit

For more from CBSO, including full event listings and online ticket sales, visit


BREVIEW: Explosions in the Sky @ O2 Institute 10.10.16

Explosions in the Sky @ O2 Institute 10.10.16 / Reuben Penny ©Birmingham Review


Words by Matthew Osborne / Pics by Reuben Penny 

I’d almost forgotten about Explosions in the Sky. Back at the turn of the century, post-rock was a formidable genre with bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai and Sigur Rós making music that seemed to wordlessly say something significant about the human condition through cinematic and sometimes apocalyptic music.Explosions in the Sky @ O2 Institute 10.10.16 / Reuben Penny ©Birmingham Review

With their 2003 release, The World Is Not a Cold Dead Place, Explosions in the Sky (EITS) made something quite beautiful which celebrated what it was to be alive on this planet, full of epic songs with life-affirming titles such as ‘First Breath After a Coma’. Since 2011’s Take Care, Take Care, however, which fell into the category of more-of-the-same, along with the works of many of their contemporaries, EITS fell off my radar.

Coming across them again on a cold Monday night in Birmingham, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Their current record, The Wilderness, whilst adding some electronica to their palette, had underwhelmed me upon first listen.

Arriving at the O2 Institute midway through the opening act, Entrance, we buy beers and immediately look for somewhere to get away from this drab, one-man-and-his-guitar act who is sucking the life out of the room with every reverb heavy chord.

After Entrance finally makes his exit, Explosions in the Sky take to the stage, say a few brief words to the packed room, and then launch into over an hour of uninterrupted music.

The light show is mesmerising, and the first ethereal notes of the title track to the new record gently leak out from the stage, entrancing the assembled throng. The photographers in the pit scurry around taking Explosions in the Sky @ O2 Institute 10.10.16 / Reuben Penny ©Birmingham Reviewshots by poking their heads through what looks like shards of heavenly light, trying to get a shot through a dimensional portal.

Then, without warning, the band erupt into a wall of noise, distorted and beautiful, and the five members thrash about the stage, lost in their own music. On the left are Mark Smith and Michael James, head-banging to every beat, and on the right are Munaf Rayani and Carlos Torres (EITS’s fifth member whilst touring) who are writhing, like charmed snakes, to the gentle melodies beneath the powerful drumming of Chris Hrasky.

EITS work their way through a set comprised of old and new material, the oldies getting the bigger round of applause and the occasional clap-along from the audience as the tension builds to the inevitable climaxes dotted throughout each piece. At one point the wedding bands of three of the members glint and catch my eye at the same time, and I Explosions in the Sky @ O2 Institute 10.10.16 / Reuben Penny ©Birmingham Reviewcontemplate a supposition that these guys are good wholesome folk who understand love in its purest sense. That certainly comes through in their music.

I am also willing to gamble that they are excellent lovers, if their music is anything to go by. They are in no hurry to get to the climax, happy to be suspended in a moment for as long as it needs. The big pay-offs always come, but are sometimes sudden and surprising, especially to newcomers – like my companion this evening who watches enthralled for the whole performance, her body rocking with the band’s every beat.

Sadly, all good things come to an end. Fortunately this is nothing short of spectacular with EITS resurrecting two classics from their much-loved third album, The World is Not a Cold Dead Place. Cheers go up as a familiar riff breaks through the ambient dramatics of ‘The Only Moment We Were Alone’, and for ten minutes we are caught Explosions in the Sky @ O2 Institute 10.10.16 / Reuben Penny ©Birmingham Reviewsuspended in something magical – a wordless story which slowly unravels, becoming an overwhelming blanket of sound, building and building until it can’t reach any higher and ending in a sudden silence as the lights go down.

Tonight is a truly spectacular piece of musical theatre. EITS show that the apparently tired sounds of the post rock genre can still ring pure and true when played at the right volumes, with the mastery of a talented band of musicians who understand the dynamics of their work.

As we are kicked out of the O2 Institute, into the sharp chill of Monday night in Digbeth, amidst the drunks and the litter, it is hard not to find some sort of beauty inherent in every scene. You just need to approach it with the right pair of eyes, and the right set of ears. Without speaking a word tonight, Explosions in the Sky showed their Birmingham audience that troubles can be overcome and that there is a beauty to life, love and living, that we can forever embrace

For more on Explosions in the Sky, visit

For more from the O2 Institute (Birmingham), visit

For more from DHP, visit