When a new band or musician tries to win the hearts and minds of the American public, they usually face an uphill battle. When they’re a British band or musician who’s received accolades and fame in their native land, the reality of playing to smaller crowds across the pond can be irritating and at times, daunting. Unless you’re The Beatles or One Direction (did I just type that?), being a singer/songwriter who’s work is lauded in the UK, you’ll generally have a tough time breaking over in the States.
Fortunately for Ben Howard, he has the chops and wherewithal to showcase his talents. Though he plays to 3-4,000 person venues in his native England, he played two soldout gigs at the Troubadour in West Hollywood earlier this week. Howard was unknown in the States, but in England, however, that all changed with the folk singer’s cover of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.” He reluctantly performed the song as a gag for Radio 1 in the UK, but it ended up going viral and the singer’s profile grew exponentially. I don’t know what that says about us as music listeners, but hey, it worked.
Playing for little over an hour, Howard and his backing duo performed songs off his debut album, Every Kingdom, which were met with surprising familiarity. Though he was initially very shy and a bit awkward on stage, the Brit seemed to get more comfortable as the night wore on. Naturally, there were calls for “Call Me Maybe” but Howard dismissed them as fast as a smart listener would. Songs like “The Wolves,” “Keep Your Head Up” and “Diamonds” showed his promise as a singer and as a songwriter with catchy, yet introspective lyrics and cool musical arrangements. Again, the singer has a ways to go with his stage command, but for his first gigs in Los Angeles AND to sell out the Troubadour two nights in a row is a major accomplishment.
Opening the night was Canadian outfit Bahamas. Used a moniker for Afie Jurvanen, the Toronto native was terrific and confident, winning over the fans who showed up early. For those of you not familiar with him, the Juno nominated musician is signed to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records and his latest album was released in February. His brand of indie roots and folk music is solid and has potential to catch to a wider audience if he can write that one song that can put him over the top. Otherwise the guy can entertain and has some cool tunes so if you want to hear another great new band, Bahamas is another one to check out.