Upon first walking into Ben Howard’s Jan. 24 concert, I had to double-check the venue on my ticket and the name on the door. Rather than the usual jam-packed, general admission venues consisting of screaming teenagers, Union Transfer boasted a slightly older, more mature audience. Rather than the pushing and screaming seen at a larger show, the large room seemed to act more as a local bar setting than anything else. People ranging from college students to those in their mid-30s mixed and mingled, enjoying their Saturday night beers in the company of other tattooed and flannelled music enthusiasts. I sensed more community than I have ever seen at a show before.
As the large, rustic chandeliers dimmed in signal of the opener, the bustling crowd of beards began to settle. A mix of folk and country eased its way into the group as Hiss Golden Messenger started to play. It was rather apparent that not many of the Ben Howard fans who had gathered were there to hear the duo, but they seemed to warm up quickly to the friendly sound of the acoustic guitar. Hiss Golden Messenger served almost as background music to the activities that were already occurring.
The short intermission afterward gave everyone a chance to finish their conversations with new acquaintances and order another beer. The scene suddenly blackened and a bright white spotlight illuminated Ben Howard from the back, allowing us to observe his silhouette, while warm orange light floated out and through the audience along with the first chords of “I Forget Where We Were.” I, along with almost all of the fans around me, was stunned. The usual differences in sound between recorded tracks and live performances weren’t there. As Howard started to sing, the light British accent came through the melody as clear, if not clearer than it had on any recorded track I’d ever heard. After realizing the extent to which the Ben Howard awesomeness had actually gone, the swaying and singing of the audience began to pick up.
By the second song, it became overly apparent that everyone at the show, including Howard himself, was there to enjoy the music. Neither he nor his show was overly flashy; he dressed in just jeans and a sweat jacket, and the only flashy aspect to the show was the lighting. Only two other people accompanied him onstage — a woman who played any instrument needed, from a keyboard to a cello, and a man with a MacBook. There was no pushing and shoving in the audience, as the calm rhythm of songs like “Conrad” and “She Treats Me Well” kept everyone swaying to the music. Nothing sat onstage that wasn’t needed or used.
After covering many more songs from the newly released album, “I Forget Where We Were,” and a few from “Every Kingdom,” his last hit album, Howard closed the show with the hit “The Fear” and simply walked off of the stage.
Overall, the relaxing nature set by the venue as well as Ben Howard himself allowed every audience member, young or old, to sit back and absorb the music. The feeling of community and comradery between audience members allowed everyone to come together as one to let the instruments flow. Union Transfer acted as one large, relaxed basement bar while everyone in it joined in, kicked back and enjoyed it.