Having attended Lord Huron’s first gig of their first proper UK tour back in 2013 this reviewer suggested that the masses should get out and see them at the moderate sized venues they’d been booked into, as the next time would see Lord Huron playing considerably larger and fuller gigs. And here we are in the sold out Shepherds Bush Empire. It’s been a busy few years in between – with a second album recorded and released and some high profile song appearances most notably in the Robert Redford hiking movie “A Walk in the Woods”. Their’s is a wide screen sound invoking broad soaring swathes of emotion – on debut album, Lonesome Dreams, this was mostly idealised love whilst the follow up Strange Trails wove in a cinemagraphic theme of delayed supernatural vengeance. And love. Previous experience – gigs and albums – made the case that Lord Huron whip up a storm of kick-drum folk, akin to The Luminaires and even (whisper it) Mumford & Sons. Their own blend of course, cannily reshaping rock and roll into a strange pulpy wall of sound – the music of modern day urban cowboys. It’s two years since the last album though…and things can change.
Lord Huron took the stage at about 9:15, and here were some changes – the band was expanded to a six piece, including a backing singer. Band founder and frontman Ben Schneider was besuited and at the back of the stage were a series of pulsing lights like escapees from the control deck of a Flash Gordon spaceship with indicator arrows and a lozenge cut-diamond shape continually morphing through a series of flickering patterns. The gig kicked off with a crunching version of The World Ender, with the lights adding a suitably sinister red glow to this tale of the dead returning to wreck a wrathful revenge: “They took my life but it isn’t the end / They put me in the ground but I’m back from the dead”.
As the band pushed into a fully rocking gear the sound at the front of the stalls was a truly shocking cacophony with the vocals buried so deep it was barely possible to distinguish a word. This wasn’t rectified on subsequent songs causing quite a few to drift back, and the sound was certainly better equalised towards the rear of the stalls standing area: it was probably great in the upstairs seating. This was somewhat unfortunate because another piece of news delivered from the stage was that the band have recently wrapped up recording their third album – which on the evidence of this gig features a more straightforward Indy rock sound compared to the more idiosyncratic previous releases. Unfamiliarity with these songs, coupled with the difficult sound, didn’t show the new material off to its best advantage.
Not that there was any lack of audience appreciation for Lord Huron’s high energy assault. And as the set progressed some more tunes from Lonesome Dreams and Strange Trails popped up. A particularly pleasing series made up of Time to Run – which with it’s incessantly catchy declaration that “I wanted everybody else in the world to know it / I wanted everyone to know you’re the girl for me” got the crowd moving – followed by The Ghost on the Shore which retained much of its spectral beauty and then She lit a Fire which was drenched with a whoozy light. The punchier rock and roll morphed through a modern prism songs of Strange Trails – the likes of Hurricane, Fool for Love and Dead Man’s Hand played right into the band’s mystique: otherworldly and wilfully out of step with the times. With Lord Huron one’s never far from a wilderness populated with dunes, deep woods, and decaying bodies.
However, after two really well received albums, there was a slight hint here that – like Mumford & Sons and Fleet Foxes – there may be a touch of Difficult Third Album syndrome looming for Lord Huron. Well, we’ll see.