Support act Willy Mason walks onto the stage in a suit, with slicked back hair, looking cool as anything. With nothing but a brief introduction, he begins playing. He mingles album songs with non-album songs and new songs, and seems to keep the crowd’s attention with his lovely brand of country-acoustic-folk music.
The highlights of his set, apart from pausing half way through to drink a cup of tea (to much applause), are his more recognised tracks like Save Myself, Oxygen, and Where The Humans Eat. One of the most effective songs crowd-wise, however, is I Got Gold (a new song that he recently released a brilliant video for... Swoon!), which gets the audience dancing.
Unfortunately, most of the way through his set I can't shake the feeling that this gig would have been so, so much better in a smaller venue, perhaps with a crowd who were here to exclusively see him. This didn’t put me off though and I will definitely be catching one of his headline shows in March.
After the interlude, there is a sudden loud bass line which makes the ground shake. There are red lights. Then Ben Howard and the three members of his band walk on stage and the crowd goes MENTAL. You would think we were there to see some legendary rock band, not a young guy who popped up out of nowhere, and in the space of about a year and a half is playing sell-out gigs in concert halls with only an album and some EPs under his belt. Ben, shyly, thanks the crowd and the band swiftly begins playing. They open the set with Everything, the song from which his album Every Kingdom takes its title. It’s immediately apparent that these young musicians are incredibly talented.
Hits like Keep Your Head Up, Only Love and other album tracks including The Fear and Diamonds create a wonderful atmosphere: the crowd are singing the lyrics back at him with perfect timing and are so enthusiastic. The opening howls of The Wolves make the crowd go even wilder, and everyone starts clapping and stomping as well as singing along.
New songs are met with great attention and eagerness. In these I notice a very obvious post-rock influence; if this is the path he is going down for his new album then I very much approve. He also applies this to album songs like Black Flies and The Fear, and although it is stepping into a different genre, the crowd seem to love it.
At the end of their set, they leave the stage to a massive surge of applause and roars, a standing ovation from the people seated at the balcony, and chants of “one more tune!” It isn’t long at all before the band are back to even more raucous applause for an encore of Promise, which is absolutely beautiful. Interesting fact: during this song they project the footage from this Youtube video onto the backdrop of the moon, which I think made the whole thing even more stunning.
I have to say, I am very impressed by this band. Every high hope I had for this gig was surpassed. They all, especially Ben, have so much passion and energy; they are outstandingly tight as a band, and it’s clear that they all love doing what they do. Their talent is remarkable: they often change or swap instruments in the middle of songs in such a seamless way that you don’t even notice unless you’re paying close attention to what the band members are doing. It’s also fantastic when a band sound better live than they do on record (which sadly is not true of enough musicians these days), and Ben and pals sound SO much better. They are truly captivating.
Overall, an excellent evening. If you ever get the chance to see Ben Howard et al live, do. I could watch them play every day and not get bored. They put on a bloody great show.