Concert Review: Ben Howard, Wye Oak, October 5, Budweiser Stage

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Upon learning that Ben Howard would be performing a show at Budweiser Stage in early October, my initial thought was that it seemed a bit ambitious. Primarily because outdoor amphitheatres and Fall weather don’t necessarily make for natural bedfellows, but beyond that, I also just wasn’t really aware that Howard had made it to the big outdoor amphitheatre show stage of his career. To be honest, I hadn’t really thought of Ben Howard all that much over the past few years. I liked his 2011 Mercury Prize-nominated debut Every Kingdom and I recall him being able to easily full the Mod Club way back in 2012, but since then, I’ll admit that I stopped paying close attention. But just because I’d stopped paying attention, that doesn’t mean that others had, and Howard has most definitely built up a following who were primed and ready to hear him perform songs off Noonday Dream, his first release in four years, despite the chill in the air on this cool October evening. And so, after giving the new album a listen, I decided to bundle up and check out the show.

Opening up the show were Wye Oak who put on an impressive performance despite playing to a crowd that would have easily filled a club-sized venue but seemed comparatively sparse in the larger amphitheatre setting. I’ve seen the band twice before, but this was easily the best set I’ve seen them play and the first time I’ve been able to truly appreciate what great musicians they really are. Though, to give some context, the first set I saw them play was a SXSW afternoon set that was plagued with technical difficulties and described at the time by singer Jenn Wassner as their worst ever, while I was way too tired to really take it in the second time I saw them play. So let’s just pretend that this show was my real first Wye Oak experience. And a rather good one at that.

“We are from America and are currently accepting applications for sham marriages,” joked Wassner, echoing the sentiment of more than a few American performers who’ve visited our country over the last couple years or so, though she did go on to clarify, “I should probably add that that was a joke so America will let us back in in two days.” Wassner also had the best line of the night when she gave a shout out to “our corporate overlords, Budweiser. Thanks to Budweiser for making a beer that it’s impossible to have an opinion about either way.” The band ended out their set with the title track to their latest The Louder I Call The Faster It Runs and thanked the audience, noting that they could feel them out there despite it being cold and dark and everyone being so far away.

Once Ben Howard took to the stage, one of the first things I noticed (besides the fact that I kind of wanted to give the man a comb – some serious bedhead going on there) was that his band has tripled in size from the trio I saw Howard fronting all those years ago. With a bigger band, of course there came an accordingly bigger sound as well, with the songs off his latest (which made up the bulk of the setlist) expanding from the folkie singer-songwriter template of those earlier recordings into a moodier, spacier, more expansive sound that touches on ambient and post rock elements at times. It all sounded quite good, though as technically impressive as it was, there was a bit of sameness to a lot of his songs that, for this writer at least, meant that things did start to drag a bit by about the one hour mark or so – still worth sticking it out though to hear “Towing The Line,” one of the highlights from the new album, make an appearance late in the set.

Despite any of my misgivings however, most of the crowd seemed quite taken with it all throughout the night so I suppose this review is just the opinion of one crusty old bastard who just wanted to go somewhere a bit warmer as the night wore on. Still, this crusty old bastard maintains that a bit of a change of pace might have shaken things up somewhat and made it all a tad more interesting – perhaps a more uptempo number (something like “Keep Your Head Up” off his first album) or maybe even just another flute solo or two would have been nice. Flutes are cool.

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Posted on by Paul in Concerts

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