When you’ve built a strong following through only three albums, it is a ballsy move not to play a single track from your Mercury Prize-nominated debut album. That’s exactly what Ben Howard did at the Anthem in Washington, D.C., though. But with a sound as serene and otherworldly as you can get with an acoustic guitar on Noonday Dream, his debut Every Kingdom serves as a stark contrast of where his head is at these days. With a nine-piece band in tow, Howard took fans on a dreamlike journey through his mind. Brief vignettes of beaches and mountains, abstract shapes, and outlines of Howard and his guitar flashed across the backdrop while he studiously fingerpicked away, seated at the front of the stage. Yes, Howard is a bit of an anti-frontman, but his music was more than capable of doing all the talking.
On set opener “A Boat To An Island On The Wall,” his guitar alongside the backing guitars ran through so many effects pedals that it was a futile effort to discern the guitars from the synths. These days, he’s more likely to be compared to the likes of Sufjan Stevens and Beach House - his music has transformed into something dreamlike that makes you feel like you could drift away into space if you closed your eyes. Omissions like “Keep Your Head Up” and even sophomore album cut “I Forget Where We Were” surely disappointed longtime fans, but those that were here for the new Ben Howard were in for one of the most sublime performances to grace The Anthem.
Noonday Dream is available now through Island Records.
Opening for Ben Howard was Wye Oak, who has now added a third bass player to augment the sound of their latest album The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs. Wye Oak was a perfect pairing with Ben Howard in the way they both wholeheartedly embrace larger-than-life production and captivating guitars. The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs is out now on Merge Records.