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Friday, July 28, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Night Watch

For Band of Horses, Block Party is just one stop in whirlwind year

Ben Bridwell is sitting on the deck of the War Room, where he has spent many hours, busing tables, serving drinks, hustling and sweating. Now, he is retired from his day job, kicking back with a few Pacifico beers and his Band of Horses mates, only sweating from mental strain.

The week before, he and his band were on "Late Show With David Letterman" — capping a stunning year-and-a-half gallop through indie rock.

A quick recap: National TV? Check. (Letterman.) Recording contract? Check. (Sub Pop signed the band, on the strength of a homemade demo.) Strong sales? Check. (Going on 30,000 for "Everything All the Time.") Local love? Absolutely — Bridwell's band is one of the headliners of the Capitol Hill Block Party, playing tonight at 8:15.

Just before meeting for beers and an interview, Bridwell's band worked on new songs at a Belltown practice space. The band leader was asked what he's been writing about, where his lyrical head is.

Festival preview


Capitol Hill Block Party, Pike Street from Broadway Avenue to 12th Avenue, doors open at 3 p.m. today and 1 p.m. Saturday; $12

(advance available at the Bad Juju Lounge with no service charge, or www.ticketswest.com; information: www.capitolhillblockparty.com).

"Being unhappy. Unsatisfied. Being sad. Melancholy," he answered, rattling off a half-dozen other negative states of mind.

The funny thing is, Bridwell seems such a happy-go-lucky guy, cheerful around his friends, easy to talk to, seemingly free of excess ego, complimentary toward others. His dark side comes out when he is alone, he says. Like after the Letterman taping. The rest of the band went out and partied all night, while Bridwell called it an early night and holed up in his hotel room, a little freaked out by everything.

Which certainly suits the artistic character of Bridwell, who penned a handful of beautifully melancholic, emotionally twisted songs for "Everything All the Time."

A perfect example is "The Funeral," which BOH performed on Letterman's show. It's cryptic and gloomy, with blasts of power-pop — like the Shins on downers, or an amped-up Iron & Wine.

The bands


Friday highlights: Helio Sequence, 5:45-6:30 p.m.; Band of Horses, 8:15-9:15 p.m.; Pretty Girls Make Graves, 9:45-11 p.m. (Main Stage); Thee Emergency, 8:45-9:45 p.m. (Neumos Stage, 21 and up); Visqueen, 9:45-10:45 p.m. (Vera Stage).

Saturday highlights: Schoolyard Heroes, 2-2:45 p.m.; Smoosh, 3:15-4 p.m.; Common Market, 8:30-9:15 p.m.; Murder City Devils, 9:45-11 p.m. (Main Stage); The Can't See, 4-4:45 p.m. (Neumos Stage, 21 and up); the Lonely H, 9-9:45 p.m. (Vera Stage).

"I'm coming up / only to hold / you under" the song begins, with gently plucked notes that trickle out — until a sudden, cathartic guitar-drum double barrel leads into a not-very-cheerful chorus:

"At every occasion / I'll be ready for the funeral"

It's a dramatic song, and there's been fairly big drama for Band of Horses. The sleepy-eyed singer has completely overhauled his band, replacing bass player Chris Early and drummer Tim Meinig with Joe Arnone, Rob Hampton and Creighton Barrett.

And then there's Mat Brooke, one of the most mysterious talents in Seattle's music scene.

Shortly after he started Band of Horses, Bridwell talked Carissa's Wierd co-founder Brooke into joining the band. Brooke played guitar and sang back-up on "Everything All the Time" but hasn't been touring with Band of Horses and didn't do the Letterman show.

Is Brooke still in Band of Horses? "I honestly don't know," Bridwell said, from beneath a battered baseball cap.

Is he playing the Block Party? "Don't know."

Sub Pop confirmed a few days later that Brooke is out, and in the long run, that might be for the better. Casual fans could have assumed that the brilliant songwriter Brooke was the creative driver behind Band of Horses, even though Brooke made it clear from the start that he was just along for the ride: Band of Horses was all about the unknown Bridwell. He'd been sporadically a member of Carissa's Wierd, mainly when they needed a drummer (he learned to play drums just to help out with that band).

Bridwell — a thin, bearded brunette who hasn't lost his scruffy look — reeled off the highlights of the wildest year of his life:

"Sasquatch — Wayne [Coyne] from the Flaming Lips watching us from backstage. I looked over and saw him and kind of [soiled] my pants. Three sold out shows in New York. The Letterman thing was pretty [darned] amazing."

Not bad for a guy who only started writing songs at 26, after the breakup of Carissa's Wierd left him at a loss. And even though Band of Horses' success has happened so fast, don't think they're snobbing out if the band doesn't hang around after its Block Party show. Bridwell and company have to race to the airport to catch a flight for the Pitchfork Music Festival on Saturday. Then August brings festivals in Norway, Sweden and France.

They'll be back in Seattle this fall, likely with quite a few more fans, more album sales, a little more security. But don't expect Bridwell to come back complacent and satisfied — that's a steed of another breed.

Tom Scanlon: tscanlon@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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