Ben Howard is a music god.
On Saturday I checked out the British indie-folk singer playing the Auckland Town Hall. It truly was a night to remember.
Howard was greeted on stage with rapturous applause. And so he should – after all, the concert had to be changed to a bigger venue because ticket demand was so massive. Word must have got out about this man’s charisma as a performer. He was truly captivating and I’m already eagerly anticipating his next tour.
Howard was refreshingly raw on stage. He didn’t recite the lines you so often hear from musicians about being ‘so excited to be here’ or telling us ‘you guys are awesome’. He didn’t encourage too many crowd singalongs, instead he looked genuinely surprised and touched by how loudly and proudly the crowd sang the words to his songs, even the ones he assumed we wouldn’t!
He started the gig with a couple of new songs, Small Things and Conrad. They were each very compelling, unique new tracks we were all happy to hear, but the songs from his breakthrough album Every Kingdom were what people were waiting for. That was obvious when he launched into Black Flies and the audience came alive. The song was a real highlight. Howard built it up beautifully, layering up a soft acoustic with lyrics that growled with more intensity as his band picked up the tempo and energy throughout.
Other stand out songs were Keep Your Head Up, the Wolves and the Fear. Each of these songs were met with massive energy from the crowd as Howard truly made them take on a new life live. The songs we’ve all come to love had an extra powerful quality in this setting, it was impossible not to dance, croon along or sway your hands in the air. Howard had everyone in the crowd either wishing they were him or married to him.
Howard is a guitar genius. I already knew that going into the gig but now I’m even more convinced of it. He picks an acoustic like he’s been doing it since the day he was born. The quality it adds to his songs is magical. Even the songs with more of a rock influence still had this quality. He always shone above his band, he was the true star on the stage and everyone knew it. But in saying that, his band – which he told us was relatively new together, complimented him perfectly. A stand out being the cellist. The strings brought a romantic element to his tracks, in fact I think having more of a string section would help to compliment the softer qualities of his songs.
What a crowd! This was the best audience I’ve been a part of for a long time. Howard doesn’t have air time on Kiwi radio stations so the people there had discovered him on their own accord and you could tell. This simple factor was so clearly reflected in the way they didn’t talk through his songs and listened with real focus to each track, both old and new. Their dedication to the artist was truly reflected when they managed to get an unplanned encore from the singer. The whole town hall sang a part from the Wolves for about five minutes before the artist came back on stage seeming genuinely impressed.
We were lucky we got an encore because it was superb! The artist played Old Pine from his first EP, much to everyone’s delight. The song truly showcases his delicate picking of the acoustic guitar and his chilling voice. Add in some great lyrics, a brilliant build up of sound and this song could be nothing but a brilliant climax to finish the set. At the end of it there was only one word on everybody’s lips: wow.
What a show!