Sunday 25 September 2016

Ben Howard at 3Arena, Dublin review - 'he impressively cuts it in live music’s Premier League'

Published 15/04/2015 | 10:23

Ben Howard

Compared to the usual cast of preening peacocks, raucous rock stars, bona fide icons, nauseating narcissists and total megalomaniacs who normally strut their stuff on this vast dockside stage, Ben Howard is as unassuming as they come.

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To have graduated to playing such arenas is some achievement in itself, but to have done it by your second album really is quite astonishing, especially considering Howard peddles an intricate blend of folk rock, which doesn't usually colonise venues of this size.

A few short years ago, Howard was just another surfer dude with a guitar from Devon. Everything changed with the release of his debut album Every Kingdom, which spawned the radio hit 'Keep Your Head Up' and bagged Howard two Brit Awards for his troubles. Its follow up I Forget Where We Were earned him his first UK number one album, plus a respectable number 5 chart position in Ireland.

The bulk of the set list is given over to the more recent material. Despite its popularity, it is a little bit weird to see a show in the 3Arena climax with a seven minute slow burning song entitled 'End of the Affair'.

Indeed, on Howard's breakthrough hit 'The Fear' the refrain goes, "We all live our lives in the confines of fear.” This isn't the usual happy clappy, delusional dross that clogs up the charts, but honest and heartfelt music reflecting all the tumult and underlying anxiety of modern life.

Howard says little and lets his music do the talking. He does acknowledge the audience, and appears delighted to be here, but in his own inimitable lo-fi way. An atmospheric light show and strong visuals help carry this show over the line, as a headline production of this kind of music is audacious to say the least.

The audience remains largely rapt throughout, until the very quiet first half of ‘End of the Affair’, that soon builds into a propulsive psychedelic wig out to silences the chatterers.

For the first two encores, ‘Old Pines’ and ‘The Wolves’, Howard holds the fort on his own without a band. While his guitar playing is brilliant, especially on the latter, it is a little too late in the evening to play the Han Solo card.

Minor gripes aside, Ben Howard impressively cuts it in live music’s Premier League. Where he goes from here could get very interesting.

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