I would like to start by saying that I am a huge Ben Howard fan.
His contemporary folk/pop appeal, distinctive huskiness and innovative lyricism undoubtedly set him apart from dull, run-of-the-mill acoustic artists.
I was filled with much anticipation then for his ABC gig to showcase his promising debut album Every Kingdom.
The set opened with the emotive, delicately soothing percussiveness of Depth Over Distance, in which Howard and his band gave a flawlessly pure performance.
However, when its last gentle hum had finished penetrating the crowd a strange barrier was established between the stage and the audience below. This is particularly disappointing for music such as Howard’s, which requires a deep reverence from the listener to be truly engaging.
The Oran Mor, where the gig was originally supposed to take place, would have been a much more intimate and suitable venue for his peaceful musings with Howard somewhat swallowed up by the city-centre ABC venue. It would have been fantastic to see Howard in his easy-going, comfortable element as opposed to being amidst the distraction of a somewhat rowdy crowd and under the glitter of an incongruous disco ball.
The versatility in the mixture of down-tempo, pensive tunes and faster paced harmonic melodies was the show’s saving grace. The performance of the interestingly intricate and ever-popular Old Pine and the catchiness of The Wolves made them sure-fire crowd pleasers. It was clear that Howard relished in every moment of these songs, and the chemistry between him and his band was evident.
The melancholic Black Flies and the introspective Everything, about the inevitability of change, were performed with captivating emotion.
While the performance was good, it was simply not a testimony of Howard’s exceptional talent, leaving fans only with the hope that he does not get swallowed up by the appeal of large, well-paid venues at the expense of the sincerity and emotive appeal so paramount to his music.