Live Review: Benjamin Francis Leftwhich - Union Chapel, London 11/04/2019
There is a meditative silence that is always prevalent at Union Chapel, in Islington. Though it never feels awkward, Benjamin Francis Leftwich used this to his advantage by turning whispers into full belly laughs. Perhaps it’s the fact that you are not allowed to bring alcohol into the venue, or just the nature of the artist all were there to see, there was an incredible politeness throughout the evening. It is important to note that the venue choice felt incredibly fitting as Benjamin is now sober and most of his latest album explores him dealing with his sobriety. After settling in with cups of tea, and water bottles in hand, a dead silence fell upon the crowd as Benjamin entered the stage whilst a cover of David Bowie’s Heroes was playing in the background.
To bare yourself onstage with just your voice and acoustic guitar mustn’t be an easy feat, but with almost a decade’s experience in the music industry, it felt like Benjamin was at home. As he noted: he had played the same venue “7 years ago and it’s nice to be back as somewhat of an adult”. The performance began with a progressive backtracking through his albums. ‘Sometimes’ gave way to the thought-provoking melancholy of ‘Tilikum’ which turned into uplifting folk with ‘1904’. In perfect cadence to the title of his latest album, Benjamin took the opportunity to show a lot of gratitude to those in the venue and who looked after them whilst they were setting up, supplying them biscuits and tea.
Taking full advantage of the silence of the crowd ‘Look Ma!’ shone in solemn pride, whereas ‘Pictures’ and ‘Butterfly Culture’ almost took on new lives. Benjamin’s chalky voice waivered at points, but always came back full of clarity and poise. The acoustics in a church are always fun to play with and at two different points, Benjamin stepped away from his microphone and unplugged his guitar – ironically, these were the moments that received the loudest cheers. Whilst keeping things relaxed and slightly personal, Benjamin introduced ‘Some Other Arms’ as being written when he was touring for the first time and decided to go on holiday to see some family in Australia. A two -week holiday evolved into a 5-month adventure where he “nearly got married” and said he would be an Aussie diver fighting sharks and jellyfish but instead stayed at home and wrote love songs.
These kinds of connective moments appeared more frequently as the performance progressed; Benjamin clearly becoming more comfortable with the crowd. It seemed as though he was quite good at gauging the audience and how the order of songs could affect their evening. It’s a great thing for an artist to ensure that the setlist is completely balanced between all of their albums and considering the progression between ‘Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’ and ‘Gratitude’, Benjamin continually relayed a relevance to all songs, old and new.
Words by Tyler Damara Kelly