O2 Brixton Academy – December 10th
Don’t get me wrong – it’s great that Ben Howard’s reached the point where he can be playing Brixton Academy-sized venues; the look on his face when the houselights go on halfway during his set is pretty indicative of what a thrill it must be; but you can’t help but think, that there’s something missing from the atmosphere in a venue that holds almost 5000 people. There’s magic in the intimacy of the 27 year-old’s music that we definitely see flickers of during his 90-minute set, but there’s something to be said for seeing this kind of act in a smaller, more intimate setting.
None of this of course, is Howard’s fault. It’s just what happens when artists grow, but the growth in venue seems particularly noticeable when standing in a sea of phones filming every second of his set. Note to everyone EVER: you will never watch those videos. You’ll try and show them to your friends to prove what a BANGING time you had at the gig, they’ll reluctantly watch 30 seconds and then politely escape. Stop filming. (Please.)
All things aside, Ben Howard is still an absolute master of his art. He’s the whole package, in baggy jeans and an old t-shirt, the guy next door who also happens to be one of the decade’s best folk-pop musicians.
What’s most interesting about his set is the marked difference between both his records. The first half of the set embraces the dark – all tracks from Howard’s second release I Forget Where We Were. The flickering monochrome visuals highlight how much his sound has changed in the three-year interim between albums. His band are stellar – all obviously talented in their own rights, but playing to his strengths and letting Howard, dominate the limelight.
Deliberately staying away from playing his ‘hits’, the gig is definitely for those who’ve been following Ben for a while. There’s no ‘Only Love’, no ‘Old Pine’ and not even ‘Keep Your Head Up’ – but it doesn’t seem to matter. The two tracks he does play from debut album Every Kingdom lighten the end of the set, as does his banter.
“People keep shouting ‘Come on Ben,’ as if I’m not trying hard enough!” he laughs. But he is – as usual, it’s raw talent that triumphs over any sort of flashy spectacle. Despite the sea of phones – and how nice it would be to be in a venue just a touch smaller for the intimacy, his music almost craves, there’s no stopping Ben Howard from here.