Live Review: Ben Howard at London Shepherds Bush Empire – 23rd February 2012

By on Tuesday, 6th March 2012 at 2:00 pm

It’s 10:45 on a Thursday night in West London, and one man stands triumphantly with his band on stage in front of the first of two 2,000 sellout crowds. His 11-track set stands up amongst the very best, and he’s only one album in. The man in question? Mr. Ben Howard.

Before him came the endearing Daughter. With an EP and selection of tracks to date, they’re enjoyable and bring a lovely atmosphere to Shepherds Bush, but everyone’s waiting for tonight’s main event.

With his debut album ‘Every Kingdom’ fast approaching its 6 month anniversary of release, Ben Howard starts the night with something new. You could say he’s keeping it fresh, I think it’s more a gentle warm-up. Resting his guitar horizontally on his lap, opener ‘Depth’ doesn’t stray far from current material, but it’s warm and enjoyable, drawing tonight’s audience in. ‘Oats in the Water’ adds electricity to the mix, but only a little. The slow build adds more anticipation before the routine kicks in with ‘Only Love’. Tonight, in mid-February, it becomes late spring as track after track ushers out the cold and beckons in a non-existent heat wave.

As strong as ‘Every Kingdom’ is, you can’t help but notice one or two lulls in the night. ‘Everything’ isn’t as strong as it could be and even ‘Black Flies’, which features Daughter’s Elena Tonra seems to last longer than required. It’s a great song and performed beautifully by both artists, but extending it seems a slight waste of talent and time. Just as you feel yourself tiring however, comes a barrage of bona fide new summer classics. ‘The Wolves’ brings sing-alongs and borderline shout-alongs as Ben engages in a bit of crowd participation. He’s been relatively polite and those assembled have been more than willing to sing through the night, but nothing’s been as loud as “Love love love!” has, aside from one or two declarations of love between tracks, each met by Howard’s humble gratitude and approachable chipper.

‘Keep Your Head Up’ closes the main set to huge cheers, only for Howard to rejoin the stage on his own and play an even more stripped down version of ‘Promise’, bringing near silence from a crowd in reciprocated awe at tonight’s spectacle. At times, Howard’s looked genuinely surprised at how well everything’s going and standing ovations further this as he closes the evening with ‘The Fear’.

It’s been a sudden and exponential rise to these heights for Howard. And at this rate, it doesn’t look like there’s any stopping him. With a few new tracks, he’ll be toppling the highest in his genre (please move over Mumford) in no time, and rightly so.

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[…] If you recall, I had one of the most incredible nights seeing Ben Howard the other week. I was somehow allowed side of stage for half the show and spent the rest of it running around like a mad man trying to find nice angles. Here’s the final product of that, my review on ThereGoesTheFear. […]

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