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Live: BEN HOWARD // Eventim Apollo, London

Celebrating the release of his third album, Noonday Dream, Ben Howard delivers a stunning performance at his sold out London show.

Ben Howard is one of the most beloved and admired artists in current musical landscape. There’s no doubt about it. He is also a visionary. Always pushing himself to new heights and reaching further in his experimental efforts, he astounds his audience time after time. His shows however, are not necessarily designed to please or entertain the crowds. They are to make you reflect and delve deeper than ever before. This of course, does not make them any less remarkable.

Tonight is Ben Howard’s first out of two consecutive sold out shows, as we gather at Hammersmith’s Eventim Apollo this Wednesday evening. With a lot of history living inside of the walls of this legendary theatre, the feeling of great importance is filling the air. The crowd seems calm but somewhat restless awaiting Ben’s arrival on stage. Returning after a four-year break with his third studio album, Noonday Dream, it is clear that he has been truly missed.

The show is captivating from the first note to the last. Accompanied by his full band, and a glass of wine, Ben takes to the stage to the howling sound of A Boat To An Island On The Wall. Spacious textures and deep electronics quickly set a solemn ambience, before his steady voice aligns with an acoustic guitar. The stage production adds in to the charm as well, with the big screen projecting a distorted swift imagery alongside a rig of subtle lights that synchronise with the vivid pinks and blues that keep flooding the whole stage at times.

Straying away from musical conformity, Ben Howard has always done things his way. His unique approach to songwriting and introspective lyricism has earned him a vast following all around the world. He may however, strike as an introvert. Reserved but completely focused on his set, Howard does not engage much with his audience (except a few words of gratitude), yet he has them all in the palm of his hand. Always somewhere between a dream and reality, he laid the foundations of a whole new universe allowing it to flourish in time. Each song feels like an entirely different realm and we’ve been invited just for a brief moment. 

Noonday Dream sets quite a pensive mood throughout. We experience Towing The Line, which is a complex offering that opens a much wider sonic pallete. Led by Howard’s hypnotic vocals, it gently carries a harmonic yet unsettled tale. There’s Your Man unravels a more upbeat rhythmics, whilst Nica Libres At Dusk introduces us to the swaying chorus.

Elsewhere in  the set, taken from his sophomore record, I Forget Where We Were, Small Things and the title track evoke the biggest applause. Springing guitar licks of the first and the lingering notion in his voice on the latter beautifully capture the urgent spark that fills up the whole album.

As Murmurations round off the main set, we dive into a contemplative pattern once more with the peaceful clips of nature being displayed on the screen. Next, returning for a highly demanded encore, the passionate End Of The Affair reaches an impactful crescendo before colliding with the absolute masterpiece Promise. As the only nod to his debut album, Every Kingdom, the song makes a blissful ending to the emotional journey we’ve been on.

No one said music was supposed to be easy. Sometimes it requires your full presence and attention. Sometimes it dazzles and soothes, or simply hurts. Few artists have mastered to translate their thoughts and emotions into their songs so thoroughly as Ben Howard. Reminiscent of a spiritual experience, his music reaches the depths of your soul, mind and everything in between. And that is perfectly fine.

Photos: Kasia Osowiecka