The now globally recognised voice of Ben Howard appeared on the stage at the Eden Sessions for the second time last Friday. With him he brought a sold out crowd of over 6,000, the sun, to what had been a rather gloomy beginning to the evening, and a memorably powerful live performance within the magical Eden setting.
A warm-up act all the way from Texas USA was Joe Pug; aptly another singer-songwriter. Admittedly we arrived at the Eden venue a little later than planned, due to overwhelming traffic on the Cornish roads, but from the two songs we heard, we thought Joe put a unique tone on the genre with just his guitar and harmonica. After a short intermission, a mellow and relaxed Ben, who looked like he could have been surfing on the Cornish coast minutes before, strolled onto stage to meet an excited audience. He wasn’t alone, but joined by the seven piece Cornish based band ‘Brother and Bones' with ‘Rich Thomas’, featuring a cello, horn section, keyboard, drums, bass and electric guitars.
"Ben’s raw and raspy voice really helps to capture the meaning in the lyrics"
Leaping in head first, Ben and the band played ‘Small Things’, the first track from his new and more somber album I Forgot Where We Were, that became the focus of this Eden Session. It was a sample of exactly what was to come, with Ben on top form, plucking away at his guitar majestically. Other songs from the newer album included ‘End of the Affair’, ’Time is Dancing’, ‘ I Forgot Where We Were’ and ‘Rivers In Your Mouth’. He also, without notice, covered ‘Every Time the Sun Comes Up’, originally performed by ‘Sharon Van Etton’. We can see why this was included in the set as its theme is similar to that of Ben’s current music. The newer album is arguably more similar in tone throughout than the first but possibly lyrically stronger in storytelling. Ben’s raw and raspy voice really helps to capture the meaning in the lyrics and bring them to life, something we’ve admired about Ben since discovering him in 2010. So, as we’ve never previously heard Ben’s second album live, we were most impressed with the songs and the general tightness, fluidity and skill of both he and his bandmates.
"there was a lot to look at!"
We shouldn't neglect to say that the evening at Eden was also visually striking, with 'trippy' vintage imagery often played on stage to accompany songs, along with dynamic lighting too. There was also an intense atmospheric feel to the Eden Session when smoke was illuminated with white startling light, occasionally transforming the stage and everyone on it into silhouettes. But the true enchantment of the Eden Sessions venue, tucked away next to the biomes, was truly appreciated when we absorbed a 360 degree perspective of the setting: projections behind and to the sides were being screened and the biomes themselves were dazzling with internal bouncing lights. Yep, the production didn't disappoint; there was a lot to look at!
Ben’s debut 2011 album Kingdom was a little neglected during this performance. We counted three tracks featured from that album, one of them being a remastered darker flavour of ‘The Fear’. He also played ‘Black Flies’, which is more in-theme with his second album anyway; and the track that earned the award for enthusiastically engaging the audience, and encouraging them to sing along word for word at the midpoint of the concert, was ‘Keep Your Head Up’. It was a refreshing change to the set and reflected our only criticism, which we heard echoed by a few other attendees, that Ben should have played one or two more of the tracks from his debut album for greater variety. You could almost feel the united desire of everyone in attendance wanting to hear ‘Only Love’ and ‘Old Pine’.
Ben is a talented storyteller musician who used Eden’s acoustically rich intimate venue, where you feel a close connection with the music and the presence of the musicians, to his advantage. Although we’d have liked to have heard one or two more tracks from his debut album, the performance primarily focused on his newer second album and was highly enjoyable.