It seems Ben Howard has been misrepresented this entire time. Often described as the ‘surfer boy from Devon’ or the ‘unassuming blonde folkster’, Howard looked to set the record straight on his latest album, ‘I Forget Where We Were’. Drowned In Sound described the album of ‘sounding like a fucking hurricane’ compared to ‘Every Kingdom’. But would that same stormy sound translate live?
Joining the stage, he is met with rapturous approval from the crowd. A sing-along ensues for lead single Conrad, as the lights flutter and the guitars pierce the air. His vocals soar, with lights mimicking sunlight, breathing live into the song. His guitar is very much the focal point of every track. Rivers In Your Mouth, sees Howard being a little quieter vocally as his guitar snarls over him. The new tracks, such as In Dreams, are received warmly by the crowd, though there are frequent shouts from the crowd for Esmerelda.
The sound is furious and Howard sings with an intense conviction, and promotes the lyrics emotional depth. Title track I Forget Where We Were, has the potential to be his live anthem, his Terrible Love. The slide guitar is larger than life, his exposed vocals tremble with emotion and the drum outro is expansive. It almost seems shameful to have released such a beast of song so early in the set, and whether he’ll be able to maintain the momentum is in question.
Most of the tracks follow the same pattern: sharp, quick verses, followed by slower choruses and bridges, only for the outro to spiral out into the venue. Whatever the case, every voice in the Olympia knows the words.
“It’s nice to hear people singing along,” he says at one point, “I’ve spent most of the tour with people asking me to play Keep Your Head Up.”
One that sees a change of format is Black Flies, a slow burner from his first album that sees a new clarity in his vocals coming to the fore. He is snappy, strong and seductive his delivery – not the shy retiring pop-folk man he is portrayed as. She Treats Me Well sees his vocals get coarser, with Howard dueling against a double bass with his guitar. However, the sound is swallowed at stages by the feverous clapping of hands.
“Merry Christmas, it’s the weekend,” he tells a jovial crowd.
The noise that Howard and his band produce throughout the night is so expansive and broad, yet so orchestrated and controlled in its delivery. The trippy bridge of Small Things collapses under the weight of the noise – brutal and mercilessly. Howard may have begun as a folk star, but on stage he is growing into a fledgling rockstar.
Oats In The Water sees the guitar take on a church organ sound, and Howard is again, impressive in his playing. There is a current running through him, as he throws himself into every performance, even when the crowd is more concerned with what’s in their glasses.
The added percussion of The Fear adds another layer to the track, turning it into a whirlwind. At this point, he is greeted with a Guinness, to which he throws his head back, cackling with laughter. Howards sparkles out with Gracious, admitting he’s running out of things to play. He strums, he whispers, and with that, he’s gone.
Just when you think Ben Howard is finished, he returns with a vengeance. Howard delivers a stomach punch of a performance, which sees the Devon surfer boy retire and the indie rock kid come to light.