By Stephen Sparks
In a recent profile in the New York Times, Ben Schneider, who was Lord Huron until he gathered childhood friends to form a quintet, revealed that the inspiration for the band’s track listing — and really their existence — is the western novelist George Ranger Johnson. Johnson is the author of ten novels, including Ghost on the Shore, Time to Run, and an unfinished eleventh, Setting Sun.
The only catch is that, well, Johnson doesn’t exist. His books, though convincingly documented online, were never written.
Schneider admits to dreaming up the novelist as a way of establishing a mythology for his musical project. It’s a clever move, harkening back to the days when record companies would spring for elaborate record sleeves or CD inserts. It also brings to mind more conceptually minded bands like Pink Floyd — though the comparison between the two ends there.
While this cleverness is admirable and makes for a good story, it becomes meaningless if you put a bunch of people in a room to listen to a band that fails to live up to its premise. Image is important, but sound trumps all. Lord Huron is a solid combination of being both interesting and compelling musically.
With their jangly guitars and locomotive rhythm — their Noise Pop kick-off show [Wed/26] started off with the chugga-chugga of a train, before the band launched into “Ends of the Earth” — Lord Huron give the impression, despite their output being limited to just a couple of EPs and one full-length album, of having been around for ages. Maybe it’s the evocative romanticism of the lyrics: Schneider sings of wandering through lonely, remote places as if such hadn’t vanished decades ago; of disappearing women and melancholy vistas capable of inspiring poets. Or it could be the congruence between the band’s dusty, old West vibe and their timeless blazers. They seem like they’d be as at home in a saloon as they were at The Fillmore.
Yet no matter how they mythologize themselves, they’re not a country and western band. Lord Huron exists in a comfortable place somewhere between Johnny Cash and My Morning Jacket. They sound familiar, friendly. Maybe this accounts for the diversity of concertgoers and helps explains why everyone, young and old, crooned along with Schneider as he opened the show with his crooning “Oooh-oh-oh-oooh” from the “Ends of the Earth.”
And while the band really hit their stride four songs in, and from then on played with chemistry and restrained enthusiasm, there was nevertheless a lack of something — carelessness? — that kept the show from being remarkable. Whether it’s shyness or professionalism, there was some distance between the band and the audience. It never felt like either side entirely engaged. This isn’t to say the show wasn’t solid, only that it was subdued.
But then, with so much distance in their songs — all those wide open, endless desert tracks and remote islands — perhaps this distance is built into the mythology.