Ben Howard at the Boulder Theater, 9/29/12 (review)By John Moore | October 1st, 2012 | No Comments »
There was way more of a collegiate atmosphere at the swollen Boulder Theater on Saturday night for it-Brit-boy Ben Howard’s first Colorado concert than there was at nearby Folsom Field, where the CU Buffs footballers and their fans were being put to sleep by UCLA.
The sold-out crowd chanted “Ben, Ben, Ben” while waiting for the soft-spoken young balladeer to take the stage. As girls shrieked and dudes caterwauled, Howard gently seduced one and all over the next two hours while politely comporting himself with as much old-school self-deprecation as the bewildered Fab Four being introduced by Ed Sullivan.
Ben Howard may have the most unhip rock-star name since … well, Ben Kweller, but he has been breaking on this side of the pond since performing his intoxicating single “Only Love” for David Letterman in mid-August. Hailing from Southwest England surfer roots (that are not at all reflected in his haunting, groovy ballads), Howard is a modern-day, tousled-haired troubadour who gets lost in brooding, mumbling expressions of a desperately desired love while backed by the lilting echos of support singer India Bourne (and a vocal crowd of 700).
Comparisons to an endless parade of acoustic singer-songwriters like Jack Johnson are inevitable and unfair. If anything, one new Howard fan cogently observed after Saturday’s show, Howard more acutely and accurately evokes Tracy Chapman, with a little of boyhood hero Bruce Springsteen thrown in. When the left-handed guitarist goes up-tempo and cranks up his entire four-piece (which isn’t often), the call-and-response is reminiscent of Denver’s own Lumineers. There are also occasional, sparer similarities to countrymen Mumford and Sons — and being in any way compared to Mumford in 2012 is not at all a bad thing.
But Howard connects with his audiences in a much more naked, and, yes, Chapman-like way. He opened with a simple, seated slide guitar serenade that he brought to a crescendo not with his full band, just his own powerful hand percussion, along with single-drum accents and backing vocals from Bourne. With her cello, keys, ukulele, guitar (bass and acoustic) and evocative voice, Bourne is really the element that completes Howard’s signature vocal sound.
Despite his relative newness, Howard’s Boulder faithful seemed to know every song, and they weren’t shy screaming along to “Only Love” and other dreamy singles like “Old Pine” in support of his new record “Every Kingdom.” The demon-chasing “Diamonds” was a highlight, but the biggest of the night had to be the upbeat singalong “Keep Your Head Up.” In something of a bold move, Howard chose to offer a quiet encore of just two solo acoustic ballads.
By the end, there seemed to be certain sameness to Howard’s catalog, which is to be expected from a 25-year-old. But, as is the case with Mumford, that consistency of style only seems to bring comfort to his present flock.
After the show, Howard was greeted behind the Boulder Theater by an alley full of adoring women, one draped in a British flag (and seemingly not much else). After an hour chatting them up, posing for photos and signing autographs, his crowd of devoted onlookers had only grown.
John Moore founded The Denver Post Underground Music Showcase in 2001 and in 24 years at The Denver Post served as deputy sports editor, rock writer and theater critic. He now writes for www.CultureWest.org. Follow him on Twitter here.