- 26 Jan 19
The English singer-songwriter’s experimental new material failed to win over a large portion of the crowd at Dublin's 3Arena.
In his first headline tour of Britain and Ireland since 2015, Ben Howard made his return to Dublin’s 3Arena last night, with a set list that drew almost exclusively from his latest album, Noonday Dream.
Looking around the arena, you immediately got the feeling that a serious chunk of the tickets in the room were bought as Christmas presents for significant others – likely banking on Howard playing familiar hits like ‘Old Pine’ and ‘Keep Your Head Up.’ From the get go, it was clear that this wasn't going to be that kind of gig.
Since bursting onto the scene with the critically acclaimed Every Kingdom in 2011, the English singer-songwriter’s sound has taken a turn for the surreal in recent years. Hot Press's Pat Carty described Howard's latest album as “a meditative, almost languid piece that’s not afraid to take its time and drift away, pulling the listener with it” - and the very same could be said of his live show. Opening with the expansive single ‘Heave Ho’ and an incredible, almost psychedelic stage design, Howard unapologetically showcased his ambient new sound and vision.
As has been pointed out before to the point of exhaustion, the singer-songwriter isn't too bothered with audience interaction, or stage presence for that matter. But throughout the performance, you get the sense that this is a deliberate creative decision - he chooses to let the music do the talking, and encourages the concertgoers to drift away into the ethereal mix he's cooking up on stage.
This dreamy element is almost too successful, however – the show hit a lull around the halfway mark, which resulted in a few audible yawns from the audience. The fact that the standing crowd’s dull roar of chatter could be heard over the vocals on the stripped back, quieter numbers was also not a great sign.
But Howard managed to bring them back before the end. He gained a new lease of life on ‘Black Flies’, a powerfully poignant fan favourite off his debut album, which had the whole crowd in the palm of his hand. It was at times like this that you couldn’t help but wish you were seeing Howard in a more intimate venue. The same could be said for supporting act Hater, a indie-rock collective from Sweden who gave off a charmingly warm vulnerability, but who’s sound was mostly lost in the large arena setting.
All the best artists will (and should) go through changes throughout their career. Whether their fanbases will choose to follow and support them through those changes is another matter entirely.
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