“We’re all very big fans of New York,” says Ben Howard, as he’s about to perform the last few songs of the night. By now, dozens of shows here later, New York’s become very big fans of the British singer too. His first show in Central Park, for Summerstage, was sold out. He made it a memorable one, with songs off Every Kingdom and The Burgh Island EP, as well as a few new tracks too, with the promise that a new album is on its way.
Ben took to the stage after a smooth, soulful warm-up from an ever-so-polite Michael Kiwanuka, who introduced his band members a few times over, making sure the audience knew just who was supporting him up on that stage. His fellow Brit, Ben came out to something Michael had not received – a quiet, enraptured audience. The opening few notes of Everything were played against the quietest backdrop I have ever heard in Central Park. I’m certain even the crickets were silent. It was incredible.
I’d like to say it lasted the whole show, but that would be too ideal for an outdoor show. Still, Ben managed, as he has always done at each gig of his that I’ve seen, to keep the crowd with him, going from the despair of Black Flies to the giddiness of Only Love, and everything in between. He’s become a lot more talkative in between songs now, making endearing small talk about the weather in England at the moment (“It’s the first year in history everyone’s happy”) to his favourite tape (“Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park”).
He played two new songs – The Burren, which builds to a full throttled crescendo about ‘starting a fight’ and I Forget Where We Were, which has that Howard trademark feel of mourning things left unsaid – and he told the crowd that the band has only a few shows left before they go off to record a new album. Cue enthusiastic applause!
Few things beat singing your heart out to The Fear in the middle of Central Park on a Monday night. Add a few fireflies into the balmy night sky with a cool evening breeze that blows through the hair ever so gently, and you have one of those magic NYC nights – created with the help of one talented Brit.