Ben Howard performs at the Fonda Theatre on Oct. 6
Photo: The Recording Academy
Ben Howard At The Fonda Theatre
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By Crystal Larsen
If you drove past Hollywood's Fonda Theatre at the beginning of the year, you would have seen "out of order" written across the marquee. But the closure of one of Los Angeles' venerable theaters proved only temporary, and thankfully so, because on Oct. 6 the intimate stage hosted one of the UK's finer recent singer/songwriter exports, Ben Howard.
Though he released his debut album, Every Kingdom, just one year ago, the energy and confidence Howard brought to the stage resembled that of a truly seasoned troubadour. As the clocked inched toward 11 p.m., the draped curtains began to rise to reveal an empty stage that was softly lit by a single white light. As seconds crept by, the stage remained empty, while impatient fans began yelling and clapping wildly, as if to lure Howard onstage. It worked, because just moments later he emerged with a look of shock on his face as he stood before the sold-out crowd.
Standing just right of center, Howard strapped on his acoustic guitar and began fingerpicking in a unique way that created both melodic and percussive sounds. He spent the majority of the first half of his set hunched over his guitar as he strummed through songs such as the pensive "Black Flies," on which he delivered a screaming chorus that sent chills down my spine. As his body moved tighter over his instrument, his vocals got louder and he played with more fervor.
He continued with "Old Pine" and "Only Love," both of which featured a more upbeat delivery from the band. But the gloomy, introspective sense that filled the packed venue continued with the performance of a new song, "Oats In The Water." As Howard's Damien Rice-esque vocals set in he sang the dismal opening lines, "Go your way, I'll take the long way 'round." Still firmly planted over his guitar, he gazed down at his shoes for the majority of this song, as if to conceal the overwhelming emotions that his songs so clearly invoke in him.
But when he wasn't fully invested in performing, he was humbly thanking the audience for being there. After delivering two songs he labeled as "love songs" — "Everything" and the aptly titled "Diamonds" — Howard meekly instructed the crowd to "make some noise" as he soon came fully alive during the empowering "Keep Your Head Up." If the first half of his set was about wallowing in some of life's toughest moments, the end was about keeping calm. "Keep your head up, keep your heart strong," Howard shouted. Showing his appreciation for such a dedicated, attentive audience, he handed one fan his cup of whiskey before momentarily leaving the stage.
Howard returned to perform "Promise," singing, "And maybe, just maybe I'll come home," which served as a reminder that this is definitely not the last we'll see of Ben Howard. In fact, I think it's only the beginning.
"Oats In The Water"
"Keep Your Head Up"
To catch Ben Howard in a city near you, click here for tour dates.