It’s not hard to notice the gift that has graced Ben Howard, the humble British singer-songwriter, who captivated a sold out crowd at Metropolis last Saturday. It is undeniable that the twenty-seven year old craftsman, is more concerned with the value of music and songwriting, one who easily gets caught up in the beauty of his own art.
On stage, it was though Howard took on a different fresh persona; his introspective and pensive songs, were given life, as they became that much more dramatic, disheartening, and may speak to an underlying chaotic state.
Among the darkness, the cling of beer bottles, and the hum of conversations and anticipation, Howard slipped onto the stage making a standout, but modest entrance. A roar ensued but was quickly shut down by harsh blinding lights. From the beginning Howard asserted the crowd of over 3,000 that it was the music they should be focused on and not him. A barely discernible Howard sings “Has the world gone mad/ Or is it me?” on the bleak opener “Small Things”, seated in front of the crowd, surrounded by a five other band members.
Slipping in and out of the shadows of the lights and haze, Howard breezes through over an hour and a half set, staying seated at center stage, only talking briefly between a couple songs. The true beauty of the British troubadour’s craft is something to be seen live; moving, multifaceted guitar efforts that stretched from soothing acoustic sections to driving, powerful riffs, enough to get the crowd begging for more. Although swallowed in the darkness, Howard’s raw, trembling vocals were clear as day, even amid the stormy lyrics.
Both “Evergreen” and “In Dreams” demonstrated the efficient force of the rest of his band. Sensible cello passages and the jangle of percussion bits enriched Howard’s blatant mastery. Nowhere was the backing of his band more warranted than on the ostentatious “End of the Affair”, “A love song for you” whispers Howard. Overwrought and frantic spotlights filled the house as Howard howled through the intimate tune.
After covering new material from I Forget Where We Were for more than half the performance, Howard delved into the rest of his tracks off Every Kingdom. “Black Flies” saw a nervous sing-along from the devoted fans – fearful of not doing it justice. However, fans were not so uneasy to show their gratitude as cheers were triggered at the outset of the new release’s crowd favourite and title-track.
The venue’s tenants yearned for classics, “Only Love”, “Keep Your Head Up” and “Wolves”, the latter which seemed to be hummed between the end and begging of a new song. The encore, filled with “Only Love”, silenced fan’s hunger, but after the delicate parts of the set it felt more like an obligation from Howard.
Closing the show with a track from his recent release, it felt as though it were an acknowledgment of the more personal stage of his career; a place (and album) filled with concerns and admissions, and turbulent, unconventional song and musical structures, but more importantly an ode to his lighthearted musical past, one which may not co-exist with fans much longer.
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Review by Sean Carlin | @seancarlin89