Ben Howard @ Symphony Hall, 21 January 2019

There is an escapist essence that has forever permeated Ben Howard’s music. With the ability to create explorative sonic tapestries Howard’s music is a breathtaking getaway form the mundane, so it is no shock that he has over the years amassed quite a following. His newest release, Noonday Dream, is a body of work that pairs this fantasy dreamscape with a new, rich electronic vibe bringing a fresh sound to Howard’s repertoire. The sonic brilliance is brought to life on Howard’s Noonday Dream Tour. Stopping at Symphony Hall Ben Howard shifted natural elements and landscapes with electronic experimentation, birthing a new transitory sound that created a vortex of dimensions for fans to fall into. 

A winnowing guitar filled the room, breaking the black silence of the quiet stage. As the lights warmed backlit blue, Ben Howard’s haunting voice descended. ‘A Boat To An Island On The Wall’ opened the night. The record is the perfect display of the progression of sound from Howard. His once acoustically tinged indie rock has morphed into an electronic exploration of sound that produces wildly explorative and haunting tunes. An expressive artistic genius, ‘A Boat to An Island On The Wall’ drips in existential beauty, the song morphing as the blossoming strings mirror the expanding distorted scenes projected on the backdrop. It was a magical beginning, drawing the audience into the dystopian dimension. 

Sombre ‘Towing the Line’ parallels the barren landscape backdrop. The distorted echoing vocals and transcendental guitar rifts giving the song this otherworldly quality. As ‘Towing the Line’ faded the faint sound of a clock streamed through, growing louder the rhythmic tick filled the room. Behind Howard the landscape shifted, the scene changing from desert landscape to dancing rocks and spewing lava. ‘Nica Libres At Dusk’ streamed through, an electronic indie rock song anchored by the drum and base, the record continues that wild mixture of sound and sights. The sonic complexity of the tune is made visible as the eight pairs of hands on stage danced wildly across their instruments. 

Atmospheric and alienistic ‘What the Moond Does’ washed the crowd in electronic fuzz, the consuming sound paired with a blinding white light that emanated from the stage. A bit of social commentary came alongside ‘All Down the Mines,’ Howard lamenting the emptiness of life as visions from Black Friday filled the screen. Continuing the righteous indignation Howard launched into rock edged ‘The Defeat.’ As Ben peered deeply into the crowd the prophetic anger and frustration seemed palpable, added to by the ferocity of the record. The record encapsulates this type of power and poignancy that seems to underpin the album Noonday Dream, an exciting glimpse into Howard’s musical maturation. 

As some of the band disperses old favourite ‘Conrad’ filters in. The song is reconstructed, with Howard breathing life into the tune with a heightened tribal beat and intermittent dream like guitars. Emotive and raw, the song is a beautiful masterpiece wrapped in the familiar. Continuing with some of the older records, ‘Everything’ brings a cheer from the fans. With stoic boldness Howard elongates the instrumentals and deepens the lyrics, bringing a sense of sadness to the record. 

The band returns and with a powerful sound ‘Someone in the Doorway’ picks up the tempo. The ecstatic rock continues with ‘There’s Your Man.’ Mixing in lamentation with rock elements the song breathes with its elongated instrumentals and hovering vocals. As the lights dim the faint sound of a heartbeat breaks through the blackness. As it grows in sonic propulsion the room seems to undulate to its beat, heads nodding as the heartbeat reverberates through our souls. Poignant and heart stirring ‘Mumurations’ fills the room. Flashing memories encased in atmospheric electronic sound the record seems to be a time capsule of moments for Howard, the instrumental explosion signalling a hopeful resurrection for the decaying scenes in Howard’s mind.  In a quiet peacefulness Howard and band disappear from the stage and return for a quick encore. 

Ben Howard is a musical mastermind. His Noonday Dream Tour was an experience, intermingling visual and sonic experimentations that pulled you in to another dimension. Part dystopian, part dream, the world he created was masterfully crafted, leaving us all in awe of his immense creativity and talent. There is something special about Ben Howard, making us hang on every word and every movement throughout the night. At the Symphony Hall Ben Howard amazed, his depthless talent and pure artistry shifting the atmosphere, leaving us all speechless. 

Reviewer: Kylie McCormick

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