The open green of Fremantle Arts Centre looked like a miniature fair with food stands and fairy lights.
The smell of English pies wafted through the cool air. “Hello Fremantle!” hollered opener, Israel Cannan. This was the first show in two years for the NSW singer, who met Howard after a stint in the UK. His songs were brand new, unnamed and until now had been confined to his living room. “Did anyone else see that magic guitar move I just did?” the singer joked. “It felt good but it looked wrong.” He then proceeded to butter up the crowd with his honey-dipped vocals. As he closed with the one song he’d named Blue, he used effects in the microphone to create an enchanting echo throughout the entire stadium.
The atmosphere was electric. After a short intermission, the field went dark and anticipation ran high. Ben Howard and his band entered the stage, teasing the hoards. They played an interlude that led into Conrad. This was the second show in two years that Perth had seen, and the postponement had done nothing to discourage fans from flooding in. Bright lights astonished and glowed over the audience as the singer blazed through tracks from his latest release, I Forget Where We Were. The title track of the album was emotive, dramatic and progressive, a strong indicator of Howard’s new sound. “Thank you very much,” were the first words spoken by the shy singer. The band played Rivers In Your Mouth, with its high-octave intro and harmonics throughout. The bass thumped like a heavy heartbeat. A cover of Jessie Ware’s Wildest Moment added variety, and a female vocalist joined Howard and played the Melodica. This was followed by a dash of oldies including a beautiful solo rendition of The Wolves, with a call and response from the less than adept crowd. “Don’t worry,” laughed Howard, “I’m shit at singalongs as well.” Keep Your Head Up and Black Flies were greatly favoured. Small Things brought the night to a reverent point with its abstract licks and moody disposition. He introduced the band then closed with The Fear and End Of The Affair before exiting the stage. Hopeful masses chanted for a return and to their delight, the much-loved Brit encored with Oats In The Water. Howard continues to be a storytelling talent with endless potential.