Indie singer-songwriter Ben Howard brought his British tunes to the Jackie Gleason Theater in Miami Beach on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. The intimate venue afforded the cult followers an up-close glimpse at his surfer freckles and wispy hair.
With the power usually reserved for electronic music, the snare of the drums reverberated in the chests of the crowd, making the performance even better than the studio version. This thump then audibly echoed in the excited claps of the audience.
While his second album, “I Forget Where We Were,” enjoys success in the UK, his name remains underground in the states. Though it was only his first time in Miami, Ben Howard proved to have a fan base in the Wynwood-frequenting, earlobe-stretching, craft-beer-drinking fans of South Florida. Everyone knew the words – an astounding fact, considering the thick accent that Howard himself mocked during a pause.
His words sparse, he addressed the crowd only once or twice in quick, shy phrases. He gives the impression of pursuing the industry not for love of the show or the fans, but purely for the love of music. For the same reason, he surfs in Britain’s freezing coasts – for pure love of the sport.
He sat most of the performance, concentrated on the complex finger picking that gives his music its ghostly, acoustic warmth. He rarely even looks at the crowd, squinting as he produces vocals as smoky as the stage fog that illuminates the stage behind him. He often turns his back to look at and walk among his band.
After about a dozen songs, he ran backstage without a word for what seemed like a well-deserved pause. He still had to come out to play his hit, “Only Love.”
“We want Ben, we want Ben,” the audience chanted hopefully. And waited as the stage managers cleared the stage and shook their heads “no.”
Why didn’t he come back? In a musical case of he said-she said, junior Luisa Andonie and senior Alessandro Valente review the ending of the concert from two different perspectives:
For a minute I stared at the stage. At the time my feelings were split between the hope for an unexpected comeback and the disbelief for what I knew was actually happening. Suddenly, after being repeatedly pushed from the back I turned and realized that a large portion of the crowd already started flowing outside of the venue in a shared disillusionment. It was at this particular time that I realized it was over. After such an engaging show, we all expected a closing performance. We were wrong. The artist left and the crowd felt betrayed by their idol. While still incredulous about such an anticlimactic end, I could hear diverse comments that all had as a common denominator the profound disappointment for a night that was spoiled by this inexplicable decision.
Though the lack of encore felt like dessert-less dinner, the strategic disappearance increased the value of his performance. Rather than indulge us, he left us wanting more– a smart technique for a musician trying to set himself apart. Instead of succumbing to the tired troupe of the encore game, he set himself apart by building upon the mysterious aura that his music emblemizes. He did not come to please a crowd. He came to play music. By varying his set lists from encored to non-encored performances, he makes the concert experience all the more live, sincere and unexpected.
Featured image courtesy contactmusic.com