The o2 Academy, Brixton, London. A holding room for the 10,000 eyes awaiting Ben Howard’s sold-out show. 5,000 bodies were packed together in anticipation, waiting for Ben and his band to take to the stage. Silhouettes in the low-lighting that softly flooded the open space stood before the crowd. “Hello London” mumbled a deep, husky voice – one only too recognizable to his fans. Screams and cheers welcomed him from the darkness as he glided into the first track of the night: Burgh Island. Bluesy, distorted notes resonated from Ben Howard’s guitar, filling the academy with a serene and intense atmosphere. The lighting shone brighter as the tempo increased, bringing Ben and the band slowly into the view of the thousands of spectators.
Following on with the deeper mood, the next song Black Flies was played to the fans as they sung along. A moody masterpiece; Ben’s performance oozed with emotion and passion. It could be argued that the first two songs were a heavy starting point, however they showcased the immense talent that was set to captivate for the entire hour and 40 minute set. After swapping from electric to acoustic, he joked “It’s not all like this I promise, now for something a bit happier…”
Fourteen plucks of the strings acted as a calling to the expectant crowd as they knew exactly what they were in for: his debut single Old Pine. Ben and the audience formed as one as he was accompanied by the audience, clapping along to the beat as he faultlessly picked away at the intro. Howard seemed only too pleased to have such a lively connection between himself and the crowd, from the warm smile on his face after each performance.
Hailing from a small town in Devonshire, UK, Ben Howard is only used to gigging small venues and a few festivals at best. Narrowly missing out on the coveted Mercury Prize and XFM award for best new album, his following grew larger each day over the past year. As he stood on the middle of the stage at the Brixton Academy, surrounded by his closest friends – his band members – it dawned on him. A nervous look appeared on his face, his eyes widened: “It’s a bloody big place this, init?” he uttered into the microphone, as a giggle expelled the nerves from his body. “This is the biggest crowd we’ve ever played” he said.
“WE LOVE YOU BEN HOWARD!” Screamed a passionate masculine fan from the crowd. “There’s a lot of love in here tonight!” He replied and he eased into one of his most famous songs from his debut album, Every Kingdom: The Wolves. As he howled to the wolf cries of the intro the fans howled too, clapping to build the tempo and tension. A highlight of the show was the final section of this song, as Ben Howard and the crowd sung the three words “Love, love, love” back and forth to each other, seeing how long he could keep it going. The crowd wouldn’t give in. Ben Howard’s utter talent that was so beautifully showcased throughout each and every song was appreciated by the audience, and they were adamant to tell him.
Each performance by Ben and his band showed originality as no song sounded like a copy of the recorded versions. The elongated guitar solos in songs like Oats in the Water (from his latest Burgh Island EP) and The Fear (from his album Every Kingdom) emulated this. The most striking element of the entire show was the sheer passion that Ben Howard puts into each song. His determination and stamina in maintaining the technically intricate and complex performance of each song is something to be commended, as it could only be described as faultless.
Ben Howard’s ability to stun the entire crowd into silence as he played his more intense songs such as Esmerelda, Burgh Island, Oats in the Water and Promise added to the atmosphere. Every single person would stop to just listen and immerse themselves into the pure brilliance taking place before them. The dramatic change in mood of the audience as he played the more upbeat songs such as Old Pine, Diamonds, The Fear and Keep Your Head Up showed just how talented he really is as a song writer and performer, as each song had some form of emotional effect on the crowd.
The encore saw Ben Howard perform his exclusive new track The Burren; a song written about his friends. Having only heard one exclusive play of the song recorded for XFM a few days earlier, it was surreal to see it in the flesh. The song showed Ben’s progression and improvement as an artist, as he was able to sit in front of 5,000 people and perform; himself and his guitar. Finally, he ended with Promise, where the stripped back performance showcased the pure quality of his and India Bourne’s vocals, complementing each other perfectly.
The relationship between Howard and his band-mates on stage showed the strong bond and close friendship they have with each other, and this strong unity was a key element in the success of the show. The entire aesthetics were tailored and fit perfectly with the mood of each individual song. The darker songs showed simple backdrops and dark stage lighting, whereas other, more light hearted songs such as Diamonds and Only Love had soft, mellow blue tones that drifted from the stage and into the audience like cool water.
The overall feel of the show was calm and serene, like the English country and seaside that inspired a lot of his songwriting. The show showed pulses of jubilance where the punchier songs such as Old Pine and Keep Your Head Up were concerned. The performances from Ben Howard and his band were completely faultless; his vocals as jagged and unique as the recorded songs would have you believe. India Bourne, Ben’s cello and bassist, provided beautiful bird-like harmonies that added new dimensions to the music. His nervous persona was found, by many, sweet and endearing, only to be made up for by his super-confident performance. Ben Howard highlighted that he is an artist to be reckoned with after his sell-out show at The o2 Academy, Brixton, as he amazed the crowd with his sheer talent and adorable personality.
Written by Ashley Chalmers
OurVinyl | Contributor