You couldn’t help but be reminded of another Ben H. last Saturday night when 25-year-old U.K. sensation Ben Howard took the stage at his sold-out Loft show on the UCSD campus.
Not only did the young Londoner start things off by placing his guitar face-up in his lap, but the crowd’s buzz and excitement was absolutely palpable, much the same way it was when Ben Harper first played shows around his 1994 debut, Welcome To the Cruel World. And in both cases, I think it was impossible for anyone present to think anything other than, "This guy’s going to be a HUGE star!"
Kicking things off with “Depth Over Distance,” a song that’s not even on his Island Records debut, Every Kingdom (rather it’s the b-side to the single “Keep Your Head Up"), Howard had the crowd enraptured from the get-go. Dressed in a black t-shirt and jeans, the singer/songwriter first asked the crowd, “This is really quite exciting, isn’t it?” But he already knew the answer.
Alongside Chris Bond (drummer who dabbles in bass), and the gorgeous/charming India Bourne (cellist/bassist who dabbles in percussion), Howard could do no wrong in the capacity crowd’s eyes. They were quiet when they were supposed to be, and cheered feverishly at everything else -- when songs started, when songs ended, when the tempo rose, and whenever the handsome 25-year-old had something to say.
When a comment as benign as “We started with false intentions, didn’t we? It started all happy and fun and then we had to go down the dark hole” is met with wild, unrestrained cheering, you know an audience is primed.
And while I was sure that the Loft’s compact space would be filled to the brim with young girls ready to gush at their new musical obsession, I was surprised at the diversity of the crowd. The Tiger Beat sect was well-represented, but there were all kinds of fans in the house -- I saw yarmulkes, bald patches, bros, hipsters, book worms and even someone who could easily be a grandparent -- and ALL of them seemed to be singing along. They crowded at the front and stood on chairs and cubes in the back. Incessantly flashing cameras and deafening sing-alongs were just an accepted part of it all.
“Good singing! There are some great voices out there!” Bourne said at one point, but the dedicated audience didn’t need any encouragement. They knew -- everyone there seemed to -- that they were witnessing something special, and it was probably the last time they’d be able to have it this much to themselves.
And if the fact that Howard is already booked for an October date at the Belly Up, or that he just sold out his entire British tour -- including a three-night run at the 5,000 capacity Brixton Academy -- is any indication, they’re exactly right.
And, really, deservedly so. Howard is charming, good-looking, writes easily adoptable songs, and can play his guitar pretty well. What’s not to like?
Also, his penchant between songs for letting his guitar strap rest on his head, making his perfectly tousled hair even more perfectly tousled, or the fact that he’s still new enough to grin from ear to ear when audiences scream in adulation, doesn’t hurt either.
“C’mon baby, don’t be shy!” one rabid fan screamed out during one of the few quiet pauses of the evening.
Howard doesn’t have a choice. It’s only a matter of time before this one’s a household name.