Fans glistened with sweat and gleamed with excitement as they packed into Manchester’s Grade One listed Albert Hall building last Friday, to watch Ben Howard bring his new album Noonday Dream to the city for the first time. The stifling heat and lack of openable windows did not manage to deter Howard’s loyal fans from remaining totally transfixed by their impressive icon. Serious and sincere, the performance was a celebration of both Ben Howard and eight-piece band’s outrageous talent and strong musical sense of self.
Opening with ethereal and willowy What The Moon Does, the precedent was immediately set for the duration of the gig. The performance style was cool and reserved; the production immaculate. Dialogue was kept to a minimum and instead the audience was invited to engage with the music and remain tranquil and calm in the tremendously hot environment.
Nica Libres At Dusk, Howard’s leading single from the latest record was up next. The dark and slightly distant feeling conjured by this track is clearly something Howard has grown fond of – much of the show was spent with Howard entirely focused on his guitar, immersed in his greatness, focused on his sound.
Howard resisted the urge to play his livelier, more pop-folk tunes from first album Every Kingdom – in spite of the many lairy Mancs attempting to coax the artist into breaking out into a spontaneous version of The Wolves at just about any given opportunity. Instead, his performance focused on his two most recent albums and Howard’s more recent, more interesting, unconventional and dreamy sound. The audience were treated to renditions of I Forget Where We Were and End Of The Affair in the encore, which prompted gentle and submissive singalongs. By this point the crowd was so tired from the heat that a quiet sing-song was all they could summon.
While the smoke from the fire on Saddleworth Moor drifted down to Manchester city centre, Howard’s fans were engulfed in the singer-songwriter’s outrageous talent. The show was atmospheric and highly entertaining without being at all contrived or corny. It must provide artists with a great pleasure when they convert listeners to veer away from their most well-known, overplayed favourites. While Howard did not play his most famous tracks, every song in which he endeavoured to perform was flawless. Howard is a talent to behold and his sound will undoubtedly continue to evolve.