Live Review: Ben Howard @ Alexandra Palace

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Within the vast Alexandra Palace, hoards of apprehensive fans entered to Aero Flynn – an intriguing outfit not least because of guitarist Mike Noyce’s involvement in Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver.

Frontman Josh Scott’s vocals soared and tumbled as Noyce rose and fell between guitar and pedalboard, creating immersive soundscapes and cyclic movements a la Radiohead circa In Rainbows/The King Of Limbs, holding their own in a tight central spot of the stage. Certainly ones to keep a close eye on for the future.

The drapes fell, and revealed the vast stage and set-up for the main act. Ben and his band entered and played a beautifully constructed and almost seamless set, each song flowing into the next with ambient interludes and dark grooves. The stage was equipped with 2 video cameras, with a third set back above the audience, each linked to a wall of LED lights at the rear of the stage. The images projected were warped and effected to deliver a stunning and atmospheric light show, with offset RGB layers. This became just as important to the integrity of the performance as the musicians on stage. Playing mostly material from his latest offering ‘I Forget Where We Were’, the tone of the show was dark almost throughout. The few moments of reprieve came from ‘She Treats Me Well’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up’, but even the latter was reworked to suit the dusky tones of his sophomore.

Aside from the accomplished performance and enthralling light show however, the Mercury Music prize nominee seemed surprisingly underwhelmed by the venue and the sea of fans in front of him. Ben said very little throughout – a solitary bow or two doing little to appease the frustrated and muted atmosphere. There were few smiles, there were few moments of genuine appreciation. Old favourites ‘Old Pine’ & ‘The Wolves’ were stripped back to just Ben and an electric guitar, losing much of the danceability, and gaining little intimacy. It felt as though Ben was playing for himself and no one else.

I want to believe he was just having an off night, but I fear his astronomical success has gone to his head. Ultimately though, Ben Howard is where he is on merit, and if he’s decided to discard the conceptions that he’s an optimistic folk/pop singer/songwriter, then I have a lot of respect for him for that.

Ben played:

Am I In Your Light?
In Dreams
Small Things
I Forget Where We Were
Time is Dancing
Rivers In Your Mouth
Keep Your Head Up
Every Time The Sun Comes Up (Sharon Van Etten cover)
She Treats Me Well
Black Flies
All Is Now Harmed
The Fear
End of the Affair
Old Pine
The Wolves

Ben Howard – Esmerelda on MUZU.TV.

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