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Thursday, 1 March 2012

Ben Howard & Daughter

It took its time in coming but my first gig of the year was seeing Ben Howard and Daughter at the HMV Institute on Tuesday (28th Feb). It was worth the wait.

Ben played every song bar one from his debut album Every Kingdom, bookended by B-side opener Depth Over Distance and encore song Burgh Island, a new song about an island just off the coast of Devon that is close to my heart as well as Ben’s.

It, like every song throughout the night, was played with boundless energy, even the ‘quiet’ ones, as Ben called them, were delivered with passion that matched the precision.

This was equally matched by a crowd as adoring and enthusiastic as any I’ve ever been a part of. Every song and every word from Ben was met with deafening screams and hysteria. Every quiet song was silently observed, every big chorus chanted back by a few thousand, as you can witness in this guerilla footage I found on YouTube.

It’s also worth noting that it was a mixed crowd, made up of all ages, with a slight lean towards female, plenty of whom embraced the following day’s tradition in order to shout early proposals to the 23-year-old.

“We played here last year in the room downstairs and were shown this room, we all said we would love to come back and play it and it’s amazing to have sold it out,” said Ben during his performance, a great example of the upwards trajectory he is on.

While his gig several days earlier at the Shepherd's Bush Empire is the date he will probably remember most, this whole tour has the feeling of witnessing something special, an artist on the brink of making it big. With a US tour this month and a US release of his album in April, as well as another UK tour later this year featuring larger venues still, taking the next step should be easy for such a great live act.

He certainly has the talent. Already an excellent songwriter, he also showcased his guitar prowess, easily switching between acoustic and electric during the performance proving he can wail as well as he can finger pick.

Each member of his band could be found in the dictionary under the word multi-instrumentalist, all switching between drums and strings and even playing both simultaneously at times. The four shared a great camaraderie on stage, all seeming delighted to be doing what they are doing. There were several points when Ben couldn’t even sing he was smiling or laughing so much, a great thing to see.

Highlights for me were Only Love, the first big singalong of the night, a loud and rousing extended version of The Wolves to close the first set, and the same for The Fear, which ended the gig.

Seeing Ben’s album at number 10 on Spotify’s UK Top 100 and two songs from it in their Top 100 songs, added to the recent success of (admittedly more pop-orientated) troubadour Ed Sheeran suggests Ben can have an impact on the charts as well as on the live scene. I'm convinced he is destined for great things.

I was equally excited to see support band Daughter, whose two devastating-in-a-good-way EPs became an obsession of mine in 2011. While only playing five songs, Elena Tonra and her band produced a hypnotic sound that resonated long after they had left the stage. Headline shows outside of London would be greatly appreciated.

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