Thursday 16th April marked the first night in the trio of sell-out gigs that Ben Howard was to put on at the historic Alexandra Palace. The venue itself is stunning, but is notably a massive pain in the arse to get to as it’s on the top of a massive hill in northeast London (but there is a handy shuttle bus thing that only costs a quid). I’d recommend even just making a day trip on a sunny day to Ally Pally if you’re bored, purely for the breath-taking view of London and the grounds around it are gorgeous for walks and picnics etc. Inside the venue itself there was a festival vibe going on, with various food stalls including a personal favourite of mine ‘Chunky Chips and Wicked Dips’ (a frequenter at Bestival woo). The only negative for me was the lack of beer options, with the only choice being Fosters which left a slight aftertaste of arse in my mouth – but I survived.
After hearing comments that the support act wasn’t up to much I decided to mull around the venue a bit longer and so was primed and ready for the mighty Ben Howard to enter the stage. Expectantly, the crowd roared as soon as the scruffily beautiful Ben Howard and his traditional five-piece band took to the stage. They opened with the track ‘Am I In Your Light?’, which regardless of it not appearing of either of his album releases (Every Kingdom // I Forget Where We Were), it really did set the mood for the rest of the evening: mellow, rhythmic and gentle. Many avid gig-goers don’t really rate Alexandra Palace as a venue, as the acoustics aren’t the best and it is a massive space to fill with only standing tickets available. However, Ben Howard possesses an incredible stage presence despite not being overly chatty. But also, despite the majority of his tracks essentially being compiled of his velvety voice and bewitching guitar, he didn’t appear to be drowned by the crowd or size of the room.
The first half of the set was almost entirely composed of tracks from his newest release – I Forget Where We Were – including the album opener ‘Small Things’ and ‘Time is Dancing’. The stage design was very simple, but on the build up of tracks like title track ‘I Forget Where We Were’, the lighting came in flashes in time to the music with TV-like static video on the screen behind, all of which added to the build up of the music. There were a few songs on the set list that I didn’t know as well as they don’t feature on either of his albums, including ‘All is Now Harmed’, ‘Esmeralda’ and a stunning cover of Rufus Wainright and Sharon Von Etten’s ‘Every Time The Sun Comes Up’. A few treats for the ears came in the form of popular favourites ‘Keep Your Head Up’ and ‘The Fear’, that injected a needed boost of energy into the crowd, with all most all rowdily singing and fist pumping along. My only criticism can be of the mellow nature of Howard’s live performance and the lack of crowd interaction. He seemed to have toned down some of the tracks and striped them back for the stage, where he could have really built them up even more for the live performance.
I can now finally say from personal experience that Ben Howard’s voice is the same as recorded… if not actually even better in the flesh. I would love to see him and his band in a festival setting, in the sunshine, as I believe that would better suit his performance but I don’t think anyone can knock his musicianship or his stage presence on the whole – Ben Howard is great and I recommend grabbing tickets if you can for the rest of his UK tour (here).