ACL Fest 2015: Ben Howard brings something unexpected to the headliner’s stage

Ben Howard during the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for American Statesman)

Ben Howard during the Austin City Limits Music Festival on Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015. (Stephen Spillman / for American Statesman)

Ben Howard has been called a UK singer-songwriter, but he’s more like an anti singer-songwriter with a jam-band behind him.

It’s atmospheric anti-pop. Like, imagine if Damian Rice had Explosions in the Sky backing him, and you get close to what Ben Howard’s doing on stage.

There’s nothing radio friendly about this band. They do everything imaginable to avoid the verse-chorus-verse trope. There are few, if any hooks. Instead, the band raises a slow beat and Howard sing-talks some emotive lines that just sort of float in that space.

Then the songs tend to get blown up by the rest of the band, in a full stage jam. The result is really unusual stuff for the main headliner’s stage — even mid-afternoon.

You get the sense that a lot of Howard’s work lies in the lyrics. His Youtube videos are intense, a little emo, and beloved by millions. But if you didn’t already know his work, I’m not sure you could’ve made out the words to connect to them. Common enough, sure. But a little surprising from someone who’s been called a folk singer, no matter how wrongheaded that term sounds.

It was niche, to be sure, but Austin crowds usually have time for musicians who are doing something different, especially on the big stage.

 


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