I wrote this review on my way home, feeling disappointed at Ben Howard’s performance at the iTunes festival, after moaning with my friend, as well as other vocal fans on the way out of the building. We hesitated leaving as he played just 55 minutes of a contracted 70 minute set, which a commenter told me was meant to include two old songs we had been craving.
However, amongst the commenters who agreed, there were a few that disagreed, and some that we very angry over this post. Although I think the swearing and shouty capital letters were unnecessary, I think it is important to admit where you’re wrong. I watched back at I had been wrong about the trace of narcissism I had initially detected. In fact, this had been a projection of my own frustration at not knowing the songs, expecting to be hearing old classics mixed in with the new, and my height meaning I was unable to see most of the time. When I watched back, I saw that the comments I had thought were rude, were actually bordering on the modesty I thought was missing: Howard’s face looked down as he laughed, as if unable to comprehend the crowd. The importance of body language, eh?
I was also wrong about interpreting him sitting down as lazy. I hadn’t seen him perform and was simply ignorant to his musical technique. In fact, the sitting down was to do with the pedals he needed to press. Other than that, my opinion still stands that the gig would have been better with a mixture of music, and with better audience interaction. So, point number (3) is out, but (1) and (2) still stand for me. Nevertheless, the feeling that I and many others got from Howard could well be to do with what another commenter mentioned: ” If you watch some of his interviews he has tough time dealing with fame and expectations, and that definitely showed last night.” I feel very passionate about mental health issues, and I would hate for my negative words to not be sympathetic to that. Perhaps what we saw on Wednesday was a man who was trying to put his all into it, but was simply struggling, having a bad day.
So, all this got me thinking about the audience, and how reactionary lots of people, myself included, had been after the gig. Some of these points were what other commenters brought up, and others were things that are linked to what I had been saying. During the gig, the audience were standing their like zombies, to the point where I was zapped of energy and was infected with the zombie bug too (plus, with the frustration with my expectations not being met). People nearer the front simply stood there, whilst other areas meant that people talked too loudly, seemingly uninterested with the gig. I think would have enjoyed the gig more had I been sat down in a quiet field with the music blowing through the wind, rather than stood up in building full of bright flashing lights. This happened when I saw Laura Marling at In The Woods festival recently (where I was also performing – yay!) I would have liked to sing along (which I approve of), but people were either silent or talking way too loudly. Music with beautiful lyrics like Marling’s or Howard’s deserve attention. Especially hearing songs for the first time, I want to really listen and take them in.
On this point is the constant need to capture every moment with a camera. I like to have a memento too, but I think after a couple of shots and maybe one recording of a song you love, enough is enough. Put the camera away and enjoy just being there. The most fun I’ve had at gigs is when you immerse yourself in the experience rather than trying to get a photograph that isn’t a big old blur of colours.
So, all in all, I have just three pointers for performers, and four for audience members, because, hey, I can admit when I’m not 100% right, and a gig is, as I said, a mutual relationship between performer and audience. My tips for the audience are as follows:
1.Talking through performances of singers whose music is lyrical and soft. (More so for poetry too!)
2. Constant filming and photography. Remember when you enjoyed just being at gigs?
3. Come without expectations. Or, as I have learnt, you will be disappointed.
4. Remember that performers are human beings, with all their imperfections and complexities.