By Maggie O’Neill
Ben Howard drew his audience for an intimate show at the Manhattan Center Hammerstein Ballroom on Friday night. The British artist, who originally hails from London, and his five member back up band played songs from his latest album, “I Forget Where We Were.”
The opening number was “Small Things,” the first track of the new album. Howard sat in a chair and played guitar as a blinding light shone from the back of the stage towards the audience, creating a silhouette of his shape. This image went well with the song’s haunting chords and lyrics.
Audience members in the top rows of the venue stayed on their feet in intrigue during the entire show. The audience’s hypnotic state was not due to a particular energy of the live music, as the show was relatively uneventful, as much as it was a combination of the appealing aesthetic and Howard’s soulful howls that command attention.
His humility was evident as he announced the names of songs to dedicated fans who cheered in response and bowed occasionally after applause. He rarely looked straight on into the face of the audience, preferring to eye his guitar for most of the performance. During rare moments, as his songs reached their emotional climax, usually during their receptive choruses, he would send a glance towards the receptive audience.
Themes from “I Forget Where We Were” range from that of love and fulfillment to that of heartbreak and regret. Memorable numbers included “Conrad,” “Time is Dancing,” “All Is Now Harmed,” “In Dreams,” and “She Treats Me Well.” During “Conrad,” a mix of blue and red lights along with smoke flooded the stage as the addicting opening melody echoed off the walls and ceiling. A quiet audience watched the simplistic performance of the song, so stripped of decadence that the rawness translated the song’s meaning. Howard labeled some of his songs with emotions before playing them by rendering them songs of love or happiness before playing them.
Before starting “She Treats Me Well,” he introduced the song as a happy number. The song switched up the rhythm from that of the solemn and sacred feel of the previous numbers to one that allowed the crowd to dance and sing along lightheartedly.
Howard introduced his band to the audience towards the end of the show. India Bourne was the only female musician accompanying him onstage. She played multiple instruments, but her role as cellist stood out the most during Howard’s fast paced instrumental pieces.
The mixture of sounds from the evening made for an eclectic arrangement. At some points, it felt like the audience was watching a folk performance while, at others, a warm acoustic mood took over. Despite forgettable moments, it was an overall relaxed and enjoyable set.
Maggie O’Neill is a staff writer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.