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Live: BEN HOWARD // O2 Academy Brixton, London

Taking over O2 Academy Brixton for a four-night residency, Ben Howard wowed the London’s audience with his stunning set last Friday.

Selling out a 5,000 cap venue is a great achievement of course, but selling out four consecutive nights…well, that is something else. Returning to the capitol with his third studio album, Noonday Dream, Ben Howard graced us with a compelling set of songs which set the bar higher for all shows to come.

Balancing on the verge of dreams and reality, Ben Howard’s music has the power to transport listeners to a whole new universe. His unique experimental approach to songwriting has earned him a vast following all around the world and it shows every time he takes to the stage. He may however, strike as an introvert. Reserved but completely focused on his set, Howard does not engage much with his audience, expressing just a few words of gratitude here and there, yet he has them all in the palm of his hand.

Accompanied by a full live band, his performances add an extra dimension to his music. With a distorted swift imagery projected on the big screen and walls of the venue, alongside a rig of subtle lights which synchronise with the instrumental arrangement, the stage production dazzles playing against our senses.

A brand new track, Heave Ho, opens the set with eerie electronics woven beneath the structure of steady drums and reverberating guitars that harmonise with mellow vocals. More solemn that any of his previous work, Noonday Dream is not an easy listen. Prompting a deep reflection, it quickly puts everyone in a pensive mood this evening.

The howling sound of A Boat To An Island On The Wall morph into spacious textures and atmospheric electronic variations, expanding just over 7 minutes. Elsewhere in the set, we experience Towing The Line, which is a complex offering that opens a much wider sonic palette, whilst Nica Libres At Dusk introduces us to its hip swaying chorus. Led by Howard’s hypnotic vocals, it gently carries a harmonic yet unsettled tale. There’s Your Man unravels a more upbeat and dynamic rhythmics, just before Murmurations rounds off the main set and we dive into the contemplative pattern once more.

A standout moment of the whole set comes in the form of the passionate track End Of The Affair that reaches an impactful crescendo before colliding with the old school vibes of Black Flies. Bringing the grand finale, Hot Heavy Summer ends on a more positive note, as we slowly return into the cold night.

Ben Howard is a visionary, there’s no doubt about it. Straying away from musical conformity, he has always done things his way. Few artists have mastered to translate their thoughts and emotions into their songs so thoroughly as he did. Reminiscent of a spiritual experience, you can find familiarity in his music and uncover something completely new at the same time. Pushing himself to new heights without ever forgetting where he came from, he surely is one of the greatest singer-songwriters of his generation and I look forward to seeing and hearing what he serves us next.

Photos: Kasia Osowiecka