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Punters were steadily filing into the grand Palais Theatre as it filled with the crisp and confident tones of Englishman Nick Mulvey. The folk singer-songwriter treated the appreciative audience to a completely acoustic set of his best material, expertly looping sections of music to create a marvellously full sound.
Following Mulvey, the eager audience began to cheer and whoop in anticipation. The band finally wandered onstage to appreciative screams and Ben Howard unassumingly meandered towards the microphone. Opening the set with a five-piece band behind him, Howard launched into the delicate and quiet acoustics of End of the Affair and Black Flies for the captivated audience.
Howard, clearly aware of the passionate, brooding and emotive nature of his material, announced it was time for “a more upbeat number,” though he promised, “The next one’s moody again.” The chuckles died down and Howard and band launched into a welcome change of pace with The Wolves. Howard then warned that it was “back to the doom and gloom for a little bit,” eliciting more laughter from the crowd.
Members of Howard’s band wandered on and off the shadow-drenched stage throughout the evening, sometimes making it hard to discern just how many people were actually onstage with him. An otherwise superfluous fifth member seemingly only appeared when a certain musical accompaniment was required.
Watch: Ben Howard – Esmerelda
Howard treated the audience to a couple of new songs, including Small Things from his forthcoming album, which he said would be released in October this year. Although a clear professional onstage, Howard seemed admittedly nervous between songs. “You can chat between songs, it’d be good for my nerves,” Howard assured the capacity audience, who offered the songwriter a respectful silence after their cheering died down between each song.
Though the singer confessed that he and the band prefer to play their newer material, they rolled through a few upbeat crowd favourites, including Keep Your Head Up and The Fear from his 2011 debut, Every Kingdom.
Howard and his band left the stage after just over a full hour of performing, returning for an impassioned encore that culminated in a wild, unexpected, bass-heavy, almost heavy metal-inspired instrumental climax, which closed an emotional and delicate, yet often intense set.
This was a strongly executed, professional and heartfelt performance by Ben Howard and his band. He held the audience in the palm of his hand with his expert guitar strumming, earnest and thought-provoking lyrics and his wonderfully youthful vocals, which almost seem to ameliorate the dark intensity exuding from much of his material.
Image: Ben Howard live in Melbourne 2014/ Photo: Nikki Williams