Ben Howard – Auckland Town Hall: June 3, 2024 (Concert Review)

Ben Howard returned to Auckland just about a decade after last selling out the Auckland Town Hall. A lot has changed since then, but has Ben?

Well, his audience is still with him as the Town Hall is once again sold out. I must confess to not being very familiar with Ben’s music but my research has left me intrigued as he was getting split decisions after his Australian shows, some reviews raving while others dismissing as “boring”. It’s possible they both could be correct.

This is one concert that may have looked better than is sounded.

Folk Bitch Trio

It was good to see the Town Hall filling up early with almost a full house ready to take in the three women who call themselves Folk Bitch Trio. They are Heide Peverelle, Jeanie Pilkington and Gracie Sinclair…one blonde, one brunette, one red head….kind of like the Mod Squad.

Folk Bitch TrioTheir sound is anything but modern, based on ancient Appalachian and Celtic folk songs. Yes, they are from Melbourne, but the harmonies are timeless.

They began singing acapella, and it was wonderful. Two of ten played guitar…one acoustic, one electric…and that’s when the trouble started. The guitars sounded awful…not the playing, but the “sound”…overdriven, distorted, but not the way an electric guitar should sound when the player wants distortion.

The three performers seemed oblivious to any sonic problems; raving about the “most beautiful room” they found themselves in.

The trio played for about 30 minutes and the crowd were relatively attentive. I was surprised to see that the main floor was standing, rather than seated, as this seems like the kind of show that one would want to sit back and take in rather than stand around for close to three hours.

Ben Howard

Ben and his band hit the stage just after 9pm and got down to business with the 1hr 45min show starting with Richard Avenue, taken from his most recent album, 2023’s Is It?

The band…I think there were five of them…tended to stay in the shadows…with Howard front and centre, playing his left-handed guitar (I’m a leftie, so always notice) and singing quite Ben Howardbeautifully. At least I think he was. The sound was such that it was virtually impossible to make out any of the lyrics. There seemed to be a lot of reverb, which, mixed with the sound of the room, rendered most of what Ben Howard sang as unintelligible. And since Howard rarely spoke between songs, there was only the music to hear and it quickly became a chore as the band sounded like a dull throbbing series of chord changes and percussion behind Howard’s veiled vocals.

Fortunately the lighting was exquisite.

There were rows of rotating coloured spot lights placed strategically behind the players along with beautiful backdrops, live projections and more that made the stage look utterly otherworldly. And the Town Hall’s huge pipe organ only added to the effect.

And fortunately, the sound seemed to improve as the show went along, at one point finding a “sweet spot” when the music and the visuals combined for a near-perfect state of euphoria. I was glad I was seated when this happened.

There were a few other sonic mishaps…a loud blast of feedback shot out of the PA when the band returned after a solo section and the overall sound got “mushy” again towards the end. And for the encore Ben played about a minute and a half of Black Flies before abandoning it, and switching guitars (and songs). Very strange.

I’m a firm believer that the sound quality is up to the band and their sound engineer and rarely is it the fault of the venue. Many folks complain about the sound at Spark Arena, but I’ve heard beautiful sounding concerts there by everyone from Leonard Cohen to Nine Inch Nails and I can say the same for the Town Hall.

So, a frustrating, but sometimes rewarding evening on this occasion.

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Azrie

Ben Howard:

Folk Bitch Trio:

Ben Howard setlist:

  1. Richmond Avenue
  2. Couldn’t Make It Up
  3. Days Of Lantana
  4. Crowhurst’s Meme
  5. Make Arrangements
  6. Buzzard
  7. Follies Fixture
  8. Nica Libres At Dusk
  9. Someone In The Doorway
  10. Evergreen
  11. Time Is Dancing
  12. I Forgot Where We Were
  13. Diamonds
  14. Moonraker
  15. Life In The Time
  16. Spirit
  17. Gracious
  18. Black Flies (partial)
  19. Conrad