Live Review: Ben Howard brought his evocative melodies to the Palais Theatre Melbourne

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Live Review: Ben Howard brought his evocative melodies to the Palais Theatre Melbourne

Words by Talia Rinaldo

Ben Howard captivated Melbourne’s Palais Theatre on Saturday night, taking fans on a mesmerising journey through shadow and sound.

On Saturday, May 25, 2024, the enigmatic Ben Howard brought his evocative melodies to the Palais Theatre in Melbourne. This concert, part of his Australian tour, followed the release of his fresh and experimental fifth studio album, Is It?, in June 2023. The setting—a fully seated, acoustically pristine venue—proved perfect for an evening of introspective and atmospheric music.

The anticipation inside the classically restored grandeur of the Palais Theatre was palpable. The seated arrangement and low lights made perfect sense as Ben Howard’s performance invited the audience to melt back into their chairs and let the music envelop them. The venue, renowned for its acoustics, created a cinematic experience, enhancing every weird and wonderful note delivered by one of the UK’s most enthralling songwriters and guitarists. 

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Before Ben Howard took the stage, the audience was treated to a captivating performance by Melbourne’s own Folk Bitch Trio. Comprised of Gracie Sinclair, Jeanie Pilkington, and Heide Peverelle, the trio delivered an intimate, stripped-back set that showcased their lush three-part harmonies and confessional songwriting. Born out of a mutual love for songwriting, rocking, and the truth, Folk Bitch Trio has truly evolved from a casual collaboration into a full-fledged band, sharing stages with notable acts such as King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard, Julia Jacklin, and Courtney Barnett.

Their set at the Palais Theatre was nothing short of magical. Opening with a pure vocal harmony, sans instrumentals, the angelic trio immediately captivated the audience. Songs like ‘Gods of a Different Sort’, ‘Flying Bird’, and the set-closing ‘Analogue’ were delivered with stunning and hair-raisingly beautiful vocals that echoed through the venue. The acoustics of the theatre perfectly suited their sound, marking their biggest hometown performance to date. Their graciousness and sweet demeanour were evident, making them the perfect opening act for Ben Howard.


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As the lights dimmed and the first notes of ‘Walking Backwards’ filled the theatre, the audience was drawn into a world of shadow and sound. The stage, shrouded in darkness, slowly revealed Howard and his band as mysterious silhouettes, setting the tone for an evening that prioritised music and mood over spectacle. This approach created an almost reverential atmosphere, with the focus squarely on the lush, textured sounds emanating from the stage, paired with an impressive display of psychedelic visuals and strategic lighting.

Much like his career, the setlist was all about evolution, seamlessly blending acoustic and electronic elements. The well-curated journey through Howard’s dynamic soundscape showcased the glitchy, synth-infused tracks from Is It? alongside some of the beloved classics. 

Highlights included ‘Life in the Time’, with its energetic 80s-inspired synths, 2018’s feverish ‘Someone In The Doorway’ and 2021’s ‘Crowhurst’s Meme’, a haunting exploration of introspective themes. A standout for me was the bright synth-fuelled ‘Couldn’t Make It Up’ from his newest album, while a clear crowd favourite was ‘Conrad’. From the 2014 album I Forget Where We Were, ‘Conrad’ evoked a rapturous response, its melancholic beauty resonating deeply with the audience.


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Howard’s stage presence was understated and self-deprecating throughout, a gentle contrast to the powerful emotional waves of his music. At the beginning of the set following the dreamy live rendition of ‘Richmond Avenue’, he quipped, “I’m going to start with all these weird sounding ones then I’ll turn these pedals off,” referring to his newer, more experimental tracks. He even called the music “pretty weird” and described the setlist as “aggressive,” setting a tone of humble honesty. His few spoken words were met with warm applause, but it was the music that truly spoke volumes. The lack of direct interaction seemed intentional, drawing the audience further into the immersive experience. The visuals—dark figures and shadowy movements—perfectly complemented the mysterious aura of the performance.

A notable moment was the acoustic renditions of ‘Diamonds’ and ‘Gracious,’ lifted from his 2011 debut, where the stripped-down arrangement allowed Howard’s signature crooning vocals to shine through. This quieter interlude provided a beautiful counterpoint to the more layered and complex tracks, showcasing his versatility as an artist.

The encore began with ‘Follies Fixture’ (2021), a poignant start that led into the smooth and reflective ‘Moonraker’. The night concluded with ‘Spirit’, leaving the audience in a state of reflective reverie. As the final notes faded, Howard and his band relished in the moment, the crowd’s applause echoing through the historic venue.

Forever pushing boundaries, Ben Howard’s performance at the Palais Theatre was a mesmerising blend of introspective ballads and dynamic arrangements. His ability to create an immersive, almost transcendental experience that prioritises musical depth and atmospheric immersion over crowd interaction makes Ben Howard’s tour an absolute must-see.

Tickets to the rest of the tour dates can be found here.