Ben Howard has been on the radar since 2011, with his first album, Every Kingdom, winning him the 2013 BRIT Award for Best British Male Solo Artist. He then followed with his second studio album I Forgot Where We Were in 2014, which rose to No.1 in the UK charts. Howard’s soft crooning and adoption of the folk genre has reached audiences of all age groups, with songs such as ‘Only Love’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up’ even hitting mainstream recognition. In June 2018, Ben Howard released his latest album Noonday Dream. It demonstrated the artist’s attempt to move beyond the instrumentation that made him popular in his previous records. Likewise, Howard’s eponymous tour Noonday Dream showcases a poetic dreamland created through experimental slow-burning harmonies, but one where its creator is effectively shut off from his audience.
Ben Howard kick-started his sold-out show at the O2 Academy Brixton with the haunting ‘Nica Libres at Dusk’, as the stage is filled with illuminating lamp-like devices that rise up and down. The movement of the spotlights that project onto the Academy’s classical stage set conveyed a sense of refuge to the audience as Howard performed a rendition of ‘A Boat to An Island/ Pt 2 Agatha’s Song.’ It is apparent that Ben Howard wants to move beyond his image as the ‘Anti-Ed Sheeran’, he barely spoke in the hour-long interlude, only occasionally addressing his audience to thank them for coming and mumbling about how his pedals did not work. He let the vibrations of nasal guitar sounds and surrealist montages on the stage screen communicate instead.
There is no doubt that Ben Howard is experimenting with his music, producing beautiful euphonies with nostalgic tones that allow the listener to introspect. During the performance, the stage screen showed footage of shoppers grabbing products off the shelves in a Black Friday-induced craze. However, the artistry that Ben Howard tried to convey seemed to be lost to some of the audience. Many lost their patience and left, not recognizing any of Howard’s new music, perhaps expecting renditions of the popular ‘Only Love’. Things picked up when Howard came back to perform four encores, one of them a soft, stunning rendition of "I Forgot Where We Were"
Ben Howard’s performance put on a show that failed to communicate his artistic convictions. As music listeners, we are used to memorable hooks and perhaps we have become too impatient. However, it could be that Howard does not particularly care to show his charisma as a performer. As we came out of the venue, a man confessed to his friend “that just made me so emotional. It makes me want to call up every girl I’ve ever been out with and tell them I love them.” Whilst this may seem somewhat superficial, at least some of us got something out of Ben Howard.
Edited by DImitrina Dyakova