M. Ward has said this tour — in support of Post-War, released in August on Merge — features the largest backing band he’s ever had, and that said band consists of the same musicians who appear on the new album. It was evident by the instrument-swapping alone at his September 28 show at the Henry Fonda Theatre that the familiarity of the players would equate to a cohesion that would give his fragile yet precise sounds a new life on stage.
Ward is an unassuming presence on record, and it was a delight to see him command the live stage. Part of what established Ward as one of the most consistent and original artists in indie music is the homespun basement-recorded sound of his older material. Sparse songs like “I’ll be Yr Bird” and “Undertaker” evoke an intimacy on feeling the closeness of practically being in the room with him. It was curious to see how these moments would translate on the live stage with a potentially powerful backing band.
On Post-War, Ward utilizes a fully functional, multitalented band and beefed up the music resulting in his loudest and most urgent record to date. I was fully expecting him to bypass his slower work and with his big backing band rollick through his most grand and upbeat material. Set opener “Let’s Dance” proved me wrong. But regardless of any particular somber song, Ward’s voice truly transcends and, with his band adding subtle flourishes to “Fuel for Fire” and “Chinese Translation,” provided a plethora of touching and intimate moments.
And on the songs that needed muscle, the band was up for the challenge. “Right in the Head,” “Four Hours in Washington” and “Helicopter” chugged, boogied and swayed. “Requiem” and “Magic Trick” balanced intimacy with aggression. Couple the variety of material with a commanding stage presence and you have a wonderful evening of live music. And the cheering crowd at the Henry Fonda Theatre was treated to nothing less.