The Hammerstein Ballroom is venue of contradictions, with a high ceiling boasting hand painted cherubs above the multi-level balcony seating and then a minimalist aesthetic of exposed lighting fixtures above the stage. When the house lights go dark, the room is transformed and the stage feels smaller. There was no better place to see Ben Howard and hear the newest incarnation of his music, which is big in it’s musical gestures and contains songs that project an intimacy with nature. Packed to the brim with people, who not only braved the fierce winter wind to make it to the venue, but also later proved their steady devotion as fans.
Before Ben graced the stage, it was first held by Hiss Golden Messenger, the Durham, North Carolina based folk-country-rock group. Though the audience was a bit unfocused, in frenzied anticipation of the headliner, the band held their own. M.C. Taylor led the band gracefully through the set, his southern drawl commanding the sound that built up around him. The band was in motion together, at play with one another, with smiles on their faces that spoke to the sincere joy they get out of making music.
The energy in the room soon focused when it was Ben’s turn to come on stage. There were hearty cheers and abundant claps as he launched into the first song off his new album, “Small Things”. Although the number of performers on stage has grown since his early tour days, it was immediately noticeable that the magical snug fit of Ben and India’s voices together still lies at the core of the performance.
Starting off in a mist of fog and stark lights so that Ben was just a silhouette set the tone for the rest of the show. While Every Kingdom was an album more acoustic in orientation, I Forget Where We Were experiments with a fuller sound. Translated to a live setting, the lighting was used to perfection throughout the show to immerse the audience into the emotional landscape of each song.
Next he launched in “Time is Dancing”, one of the strongest off the new album. Though, as always, Ben’s voice lapped you up into the story and carried you along in its wave, the song did not have the same lush quality as on the record. At first it seemed that the band had an almost aggressive, static posture on stage. I soon realized it was as though they were acting almost as human vessels for the outpouring of music that they were so engrossed in creating.
One of the highlights of the night was “I Forget Where We Were”, during which they turned on the house lights. You could finally see Ben, with his nappy hair and shy grin; you could see India, who never ceased to impress as a multi-instrumentalist, killing it on the drums; and you could see the audience, who was totally enthralled, many singing along at parts, with a number of those in the balcony out of their seats. “End of the Affair” was other especially strong moments. In the wash of meditative blue lights, Ben bared his soul, despite loud chatter in a lull of audience alertness. As the song progressed, roving strobe lights streaked and blasted through the room, mimicking the chaos and pain of heartbreak that song evokes.
After an encore full of stunning moments, such as India joyfully dancing in “She Treats Me Well” and the audience rowdily becoming enmeshed with the robust pulse of “The Fear”, Hiss Golden Messenger reappeared on stage for a collective bow at the end, concluding an incredible and unforgettable night.
Written by Nina Leonard
OurVinyl | Contributor
Time is Dancing
I Forget Where We Were
Rivers in Your Mouth
End of the Affair
New Song [Title Unknown]
All is Now Harmed
She Treats Me Well
Oats in the Water
(Photos within the article are from http://dailybenhowardblog.tumblr.com/page/2)