Benjamin Frances Leftwich at The Button Factory, Dublin, on Thursday March 21st 2018
Benjamin Francis Leftwich has slowly but surely been on a journey from traditional style acoustic singer-songwriter to a more mature, nuanced sound, incorporating elements of electronica over time until he reached the sharp sound of his latest release ‘Gratitude’, a sprawling, lush, cinematic record dripping with heartbreak.
But with technology comes complications, and tonight Leftwich almost falls prey to the old adage that ‘anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’ when several songs into his set he has to abandon using his electric guitar for the rest of the show due to technical issues.
And for this reason, the first night of the ‘Gratitude’ tour may not have sounded exactly as Leftwich would have wanted, but what the audience got instead was mesmerising.
Leftwich’s voice has a powerful ease which is at times reminiscent of Simon Aldred (Cherry Ghost) and is striking from the opening notes of Sometimes, the first showcase for Leftwich’s considerable fingerpicking skills. These are further evidenced on Tilikum, where Leftwich is joined by regular collaborator and song writing partner Oliver Deakin on electric guitar (and later on synth and keys and triggers as the evening progresses).
Though clearly suffering from opening night jitters Leftwich is affable between songs, apologising for making the audience miss Drake, before explaining how Look Ma! was inspired by the Christian Bale movie Empire of The Sun.
Numb gives us a snapshot of Leftwich’s more contemporary leaning as beats are successfully added to the picture, before taking the crowd back to 2011 with a stirring rendition of Pictures which sees Leftwich going off mic for the final verse. The crowd is suitably hushed in appreciation.
Later Leftwich performs his 120m+ and counting streaming sensation Shine, completely off-mic and unplugged, further showcasing his ability as performer.
When the moment of crisis comes, and the electric guitar is put away before its evening ever really began, we are treated to a stunning version of Butterfly Culture. When Leftwich takes the mic for Mess We Make unshielded by guitar, his vulnerability is palpable when he delivers lines such as “How can I separate the songs from the mistakes?” surrounded by Deakin’s sparse piano.
Gratitude, like much of his third album, is about thanks giving, reclamation of self, and relationships, and it’s refreshing to see someone who has well-documented issues enter recovery and deliver their best work to date with such a positive world view, even if it’s baked in such sadness.
The crowd almost breaks into a sing along for fan-favourite Atlas Hands in the encore, but Leftwich is at his most effective on songs such as 4AM in London, when he presents his pain on a plate to the crowd with gut-wrenching authenticity.
With such authoritative displays, it’s no wonder Benjamin Frances Leftwich keeps filling larger and larger venues around the world.