Set to be one of the biggest UK artists of 2012: Ben Howard shook up a storm for his performance at Sin City on Friday and created an impressive and memorable finish to his UK tour.
Supported by Rich Thomas of Brother and Bones (who gave a fantastic performance despite the fact that he was missing the rest of his band), Howard proves himself as one of those musicians who sound just as good live as they do in the recording studio. Shuffling on to the stage, it takes a moment for the crowd to tell him apart from one of the techies doing a sound-check; dressed as he is in scruffy jeans and an oversized t-shirt. He mumbles a “hello” to the screaming audience, gives a shy grin, glances at bandmates Chris Bond and India Bourne, then begins the first song of the night.
“This is our last performance of the tour,” he tells the cheering audience. “We’ve sold out every venue apart from one, and who gives a fuck about them anyway?”
The slower, more melancholic songs are played first, creating a fantastic atmosphere, before the band strike up the opening notes to Diamonds, the song that Howard cites as the representative for the whole album.
Along with the cello and drums, Bond and Bourne (great last names) also sing vocals, and play bass, percussion and guitar. Bond at one point seems to be playing bass and drums at the same time, and along with Howard they indulge in some intense jamming sessions during Keep Your Head Up and Only Love, that despite going on for perhaps thirty seconds too long, are hugely enjoyable.
Black Flies, my favourite, is apparently too “weird” to be released as a single on the radio. Hauntingly beautiful, yes, but weird? The rest of the audience seems to agree with me and there are wails of protest when Howard tells us this.
“That’s what I thought,” he says, and starts to play.
Comparisons to Ed Sheeran are inevitable, but they’re only really valid in terms of the word-of-mouth rise to success and devoted fan-base that both young artists are enjoying; the similarities end there. Missing the grime and dubstep inflections that Sheeran favours- Howard’s sweetly gruff voice matches the folk-pop/rock harmonies he teases from his guitar and that Newton Faulkner-style guitar tapping; put together with mature lyrics that take images from the natural world to form songs about love, life and the scheme of things.
An encore is not so much asked for as demanded by every single member of the audience, as they turn the chant of “more” into a song of its own. The band come back on for one final song, with Howard cracking open a bottle of champagne to celebrate the end of the tour and sharing it with India and Chris.
After the show I hang around until he appears from backstage. After what seems like an age of having his photo taken with fans, I ask tentatively if he’d mind doing an interview but he shakes his head.
“Sorry, I’m all out of interviews,” he says. “I’ve been doing them through the whole tour so I’m kind of worn out.”
You have to know when not to push something, and fair play to the guy- he has been touring for two and a half months. So I just thank him for the show, he looks chuffed and a little relieved that I’m not going to keep bugging him, then I leave him to it; hoping very much that his last night out before he goes home is a good one.
Ben Howard was born in Devon, and is currently signed to Island Records. After a brief stint at university he decided to focus on music, building his reputation around the UK and citing influences such as Jeff Buckley, Bon Iver, Damien Rice, Ray Lamontagne and Joni Mitchell. His debut album Every Kingdom was released on the 30th September 2011.
In pictures: Ben Howard