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The weather Saturday night could not have been better for waiting in line for a great concert, which was lucky for the huge crowd that turned up for Ben Howard’s show at the Paradise Rock Club. The line stretched far down the sidewalk and around the block, made up of a variety of Howard fans: students from BU, middle-aged couples, hippies, even a crowd of tourists. Lots of them were pulling out their iPhones and cameras to snap a picture of the lit-up sign with Howard’s name outside the club.
At eight o’clock sharp, opening act Gill Landry took the stage. Landry is an interesting choice to open for Howard, as Howard hails from Britain and Landry from Nashville. Yet though their backgrounds are vastly different, each envokes beautiful lyrical imagery of life in the countryside. Landry really is an all-American artist, with a rich, strong voice and bluesy style. He stood center stage in a spotlight with his guitar and a harmonica, singing songs about traveling the United States, life in Tennessee, and finding love in New Orleans. He did an impressive job setting the mood for the headliner all by himself.
By nine o’clock the Paradise was packed to the brim with people chanting for Ben Howard. Thirteen minutes later he appeared to thunderous applause, and just saying “Hello” in his charming British accent sent the crowd screaming even louder. His first song was the slow-paced ‘Everything’, but the tempo quickly picked up with songs like “Oats in the Water” and crowd favorite “Only Love”, which featured beautiful harmonizing vocals from cellist, drummer, and guitarist India Bourne.
Howard’s stage presence was modest but powerful. He dressed in a plain t-shirt and jeans, and sipped from a coffee mug between songs. It was easy to see how sincerely absorbed he was in the whole experience as he swayed back and forth to the music. During “The Wolves”, he stomped his foot along to the beat so hard and with such incredible energy it would not have been surprising if he had crushed a hole in the stage. Generally his songs began soft and slowly, much as they sound on the recorded album, then would progress into loud, powerful, endings that sounded more rock n’ roll than folk. This mix of folk and rock encapsulates Howard pretty well. In the middle of his set he demanded that the air conditioning needed to be turned off because live shows “need to be sweaty,” but his constant grin suggested a more relaxed and jokey attitude. This is what makes a Ben Howard concert so enjoyable and rewarding; in a world so full of musicians putting forth carefully structured personas and complicated stage acts, Howard comes across as very genuine and lets his music speak for itself.
Howard only has one album out right now, the well-received Every Kingdom. As a result, the set list was rather predictable, but this did not weaken the show at all. In fact, when fans shouted for Howard to play his popular cover of “Call Me Maybe” (no matter how annoying you find the original, look up Howard’s version; it’s fantastic), Howard smiled and said he would rather play his own songs. One of these was new song “Burgh Island”, a quiet song with lots of reverb and echoes. If Howard’s next album is anything like this song, it will give audiences the reflective lyrics they love with a slightly more experimental sound. The audience sang along loudly to each of the songs off the album, constantly bobbing their heads and dancing like crazy when they could. “Black Flies” provided everyone with an almost spiritual moment; Howard crooned, “No man is an island” with the entire crowd singing along. His humble approach to performing and the small size of the venue allowed the audience to feel like they had a role in the music. It is noteworthy that at 25, this young British artist already has so many dedicated fans, but after tonight’s concert, I am convinced Ben Howard’s fan base will continue to grow.