Review: Ben Howard – The Ritz, Manchester

Since releasing his debut album Every Kingdom late last year, Ben Howard seems to have gone from to strength, to strength, to strength. He has also gone from playing small, intimate venues only 3 or 4 months ago, to selling out  large venues such as the Ritz, fuelling plans to go even bigger in another few months when he plays the likes of Manchester Apollo.

Tonight he was supported by Daughter, another sensational talent that we were extremely excited to see, if not more than we were about seeing Howard! However…we had a bit of a nightmare. The Ritz is, after all, a nightclub. And so, when it comes to live gigs at the weekend, they throw the acts on stage particularly early so that a bunch of teenagers can get their rave on without any disturbance to their weekly regime. Thus, when we strolled up to the venue just after 7:30, we found that Daughter had in fact been, and gone…quite the disappointment. (Although only disappointed in ourselves, having not read the ‘Doors at 6:30’ bit on the ticket!)  Nonetheless, there’s nothing the stunning Elena Tonra could do, so we will just have to wait until next time! I’m sure she was an absolute knockout though.

And so, Ben Howard took to the stage just after 8pm. The crowd were electric, with whoops and hollas greeting Ben and the band, much to their surprise. Later in the gig, Howard described his amazement at how huge and exciting the Manchester crowd were, given that they hadn’t spent as much time up North as they probably should have…this was then greeted with more whoops and chants.

And to be honested, that became a bit of a theme. Without laying into my fellow Ben Howard followers, the crowd did kind of ruin it for me, or at least made it less enjoyable. Certainly for the more upbeat tracks such as the sensational The Wolves and Keep Your Head Up I was overpowered with glee as much as the rest of them, and it was obvious that Howard and his band were bloody loving their time on a larger stage. Nonetheless, I’m sure they would equally agree that the crowd were slightly less respectful when it came to the slower numbers. Every Kingdom is an album that, when listened to fully, offers a great deal of heartfelt, beautiful moments. A rare acoustic, solo version of Gracious being a key example; when a single, dimmed spotlight was placed over Howard highlighting the intimacy of the song. But the crowd just nattered away, as if bored and only there for the fast ones (probably true in some cases). The same goes for a new track, which I’m sure they were very eager to try out. However, as it was less stomping than others, the crowd continued to talk, or even shout ‘play Only Love!’…which they already had done.

Without doubt, Ben Howard and his extremely talented band were flawless in their performance this evening, blending stunning tracks such as Old Pine, with gradually thumping moments such as Black Flies, and obvious singalong crowd pleasers such as Diamonds. They illustrated that they are ready to play larger shows and have the ability to pull them off without a hitch. However, it seems Howard has very much entered the realms of Ed Sheeran so to speak, where teenage girls outnumber the rest of the fans 2 to 1 at least. This is no bad thing for the music, as it pleases me no end that acoustic folk is becoming ever popular. It’s just a shame that when it comes to his live shows, many of them seemed to turn up expecting The Fear (which was, as expected, sensational), to be played over and over again. Many of these fans even turned up with glowsticks, which was beyond me.

Perhaps I was just grumpy from missing Daughter, perhaps I’m just getting old (I am turning 23 this week after all!), but I think I would have preffered to see Ben play a more intimate venue, or perhaps a small stage at a festival. Nonetheless, he certainly deserves every particle of the praise he is receiving and is no doubt going to be an act that continues going from strength to strength. His songwriting, guitar playing and ability to please a crowd is unbelievable and one can only hope that his second album is as perfect as the first.