Written by Shannon Farrell
There's not much that can be said about Ben Howard's show at The Mod Club Thursday night other than if you weren't there you missed something special.
I was first introduced to Ben Howard only after receiving a list of Toronto shows playing in April a few weeks ago. Hearing his music for the first time I wondered: why haven't I heard of this guy before? And after last night, I'm left wondering why everyone hasn't heard of him already.
Ben is a 23 year old English singer-songwriter influenced by such legends as Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. He mixes soulful lyrics, alternative acoustics and electric rock to create a folk-alternative sound similar in part to contemporaries such as James Blunt and Damien Rice. As I heard one audience member describe, "he's like a mix between Mumford and Sons and Ben Harper." Another described him as a "smoky sounding John Mayer."
"Smoky" is exactly the right word to describe Ben's smooth and raspy vocals. Throughout the Thursday night concert, his vocals were soft and emotional at times, and powerful and dynamic at others. He could hold back and let loose with incredible range. That range extended beyond his vocals to his technical abilities as well. He began the show with "Depth Over Distance," where he played and drummed the guitar while he sang. He showcased his natural musical talent by switching from acoustic to electric, even adding some percussion in between.
There were a number of instrument changes throughout the evening not just from Ben, but also from band-mate India Bourne, who transitioned seamlessly from vocals to bass to cello. Percussionist Chris Bond showcased multiple talents as well by providing backing vocals.
Ben and the band played to promote their new album “Every Kingdom” released In North America on April 3rd. They played fan favourites such as “The Wolves,” “Keep Your Head Up” and “Old Pine” with a packed audience singing along to every word. It was the band’s first time playing in Toronto. Though, not their first trip to Canada. As Ben told the audience between sets, their tour bus was broken into in Niagara Falls. Not the warmest welcome to Canada, but after being met with an enthusiastic reception by The Mod Club audience, hopefully he left Canada on a bit more of a positive note.
He played a range of upbeat, self-described "depressing" and musically energetic songs from past and present. The show ended in an encore with a stunning rendition of “Black Flies.” The climax of the song was reached with a sped up guitar solo that made me think Ben’s hand might fall off from strumming so fast. It was his final showcase of his crazy skills – a perfect ending to an amazing show. He had everyone in the audience standing in applause. With a big smile he signed off with a ‘cheers’ and headed backstage. It was an unbelievably good show from start to finish. Definitely must-see when he comes back, which I, and I'm sure many other devoted Toronto fans, hope will be very soon.