Ben Howard is one of the greats. On a soggy Vancouver night he managed to captivate the crowd at Deer Lake Park without playing any of the catchy radio singles from his break-out album Every Kingdom. His performance was beautifully melancholic, perhaps a perfect match for a city that has a reputation for being mild mannered at concerts.
It was exactly what I needed. Which seems a bit strange to admit - that I needed to stand in the rain, shivering for nearly two hours on a Thursday evening and totally let myself be immersed in the masterful artistic journey that Ben Howard and crew invited us on. But I needed to to be moved by something other than joy. I needed to remember how brilliant the light that shines in the darkness is.
Part of the reason why I was so darn cold was because I had to sprint nearly a kilometer in order to get there in time to catch opening act Wye Oak. Totally worth it. The indie rock band from Baltimore Maryland will be accompanying Ben Howard through mid October and the ethereal wail of vocalist Jenn Wasner amidst the jangling crashes and buzzing of guitar is a lovely portal to the rest of the evening.
Ben Howard is the centerpiece of a cinematic experience that includes an entourage of musicians, a collection of instruments and a visual presentation that makes the Honda Celebration of Lights look like an amateur production. That’s saying something, considering the shy, award winning singer-songwriter spent a good chunk of the evening with his back to the audience and mostly played songs from his newly released album Noonday Dream. as opposed to the folk-pop numbers that catapulted him tstardom back in 2011. In fact, the only song that I heard people quietly singing to was “Small Things”, a somber number from his darker, second album.
With his back to the crowd, his focus turns to one or more of the eight other musicians in his ensemble, whose artistry helps weave together the musical element of the evening’s tapestry. They are all in the moment, moving their bodies to the ebbs and flows of the languid arrangement.
The evening is a collection of vignettes. Snapshots. Little snippets of sound that intertwine brilliantly with poetry and visual affects. The ambient groans that begin “Boat to an Island on the Wall” fade away to bright strumming guitar and Ben Howard singing intensely in the lower register of his range. A textured backdrop that reminded me of cave walls upon which flickered scenes from a park, abstract doodles, and moving landscapes.
I found myself absorbed into the gloriously rich and waterlogged moment, among softly swaying strangers wrapped in ponchos of mostly blue and white.
I can’t say that I had listened to Noonday Dreams more than a few times before Thursday evening, so I couldn’t say for sure which songs were played or in which order. But it’s a well thought out collection of songs that attaches itself to the subconscious. It’s everything a day dream is. An escape. An assessment of the current situation. An examination of fear and worry. Hope and desire.
The evening ended with Howard on his knees in front of his pedal effects as the music around him slowly gave way to the persistent hiss of a monsoon. In the following silence, several thousand people watched as Ben Howard wordlessly returned his guitar to a stand several feet away and made his way back to the microphone. “Thank you” he said, quietly, as the crowd began to cheer. He clasped his hands together in front of him and took a low bow before gesturing to his band mates and ultimately walking off the stage.
I can’t speak for everyone, but by going deeper, I felt lighter.