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Ben Howard at Palais Theatre - Review

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Noonday Dream, four classics and a new song
ben howard, palais theatre
Ben Howard lights up Palais Theatre

Ben Howard played two shows at the Palais Theatre, one on Tuesday July 24 and one on Wednesday July 25. I was lucky enough to snag tickets to the Tuesday show.

There was no supporting act. Ben's started proceedings with Boat to an Island on the Wall, Towing the Line and Nica Libres at Dusk - interestingly, these three songs were all singles from Noonday Dream and this is the same order they were released in.

Boat was truly epic and performed identically to the studio version - the best moments being either: 1) when the pinched electrical guitar refrain kicks in halfway through; 2) Ben's rhythmical and slurred/distorted solo to close out the song.

Towing The Line scaled it right back, to just Mickey Smith's three-note finger picking and Ben's slouched seated singing, side on from the stage. The emotion of the studio version was repeated, if not improved upon, here, with the lyrics 'I know I'm a hard rock to drag around' capturing the theme perfectly.

Nica Libres at Dusk was perhaps the least strong of the opening three. It lost some of its gentle wandering dreaminess in heavy noise; although, it still featured its amazing moments including the wailing high-pitched guitar notes like eagle's screeches and the quirky outro.

The lyrics following 'Today I will stare at the sea' have been in hot dispute since the single's release - it sounded as if Ben sang 'till my eye's fall down' with the refrain being 'fall down, fall down'. Perhaps this was a variation just for the show.

Other interesting differences in the live songs compared to the studio versions were: 1) the lack of sound distortion on All Down the Mines; 2) the use of auto-tune at the end of What The Moon Does, which suited the song's electronic/dub-steppy second half; 3) the acoustic version of I Forget Where We Were; 4) a slightly more electric-guitar/heavy version of Promise than we're used to.

The best performed songs of the night were Towing the Line, All Down the Mines and I Forget Where We Were; they were less spectacular productions than their counterparts, with minimal light displays and no booming bass or drums, bringing Ben's unique emotive pronunciation to the fore.

Ben is renowned for not playing his early music, particular songs from Every Kingdom. His musical mood has changed - in EK he was upbeat, catchy, acoustic; he's gradually become electric and darker, with according lyrical changes. Compare 'Keep your head up, keep your heart strong' with 'I know I'm a hard rock to drag around'.

Ben joked on this theme. After coming out for the encore, he said something along the lines of 'time to draw from the memory banks', to which the crowd went wild. He then added 'not that far back'. We only heard Promise from EK, but were lucky enough to hear End of the Affair, IFWWW and Small Things from his second album. I felt blessed to hear End of the Affair, which seems to be something of a rare Pokemon on Ben's setlists, despite its quality.

Ben did not speak much to the audience, instead remaining focused. His only words pre-encore were 'Thank you very much'. Some may prefer more engagement, but those attending for Ben's music will not mind. Besides, Mickey Smith was rocking out the whole show, bopping his head and throwing his body around, to contrast with Ben's serenity.

I had never heard of the tenth song before. After a thorough search online, it seems the song really was new - a view echoed by others on the web.

palais theatre, ben howard
Palais Theatre, the first time the public heard Hot Heavy Summer

The song, although not named on the night by Ben, is probably called Hot Heavy Summer. It is guitar-driven, with light drums/drum-machine in the background. The mood is relaxed and it is calming to listen to; it expresses, in sound (although not necessarily lyrics), a fondness for summer memories. After a few choruses, it closes out with a solo over a strumming guitar. Here is what I could hear of the lyrics:

Baby wants to last in the hearts of the wild and free
She knows that time ticks over to every long hot heavy summer
And all of them, they talk of national security
Over garden fences made to buff the bastard breeze

Baby wants to dance
Past the Tuesday morning supermarket crowd
She knows we'll all sleep through the days
and be two-step drip-fed our laughter

A recording made by a concertgoer is available here.

The exact setlist was as follows:

1. Boat to an Island on the Wall
2. Towing the Line
3. Nica Libres at Dusk
4. Someone in the Doorway
5. All Down the Mines
6. The Defeat
7. What the Moon Does
8. Agatha's Song/Boat Part 2
9. There's Your Man
10. Untitled (Hot Heavy Summer)
11. Murmurations

12. Small Things
13. End of The Affair
14. I Forget Where We Were
15. Promise
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When: July 24 and 25, 2018
Where: Palais Theatre
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