Review: Benjamin Francis Leftwich

LEORA TARATULA-LYONS was ambivalent, but found herself captivated by Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s engaging performance at the Junction.

acoustic arcade fire ben howard benjamin francis leftwich ed sheeran festival folk gig review Maria Hackman The Junction

I’ve been to many quaint acoustic gigs in my time that have delivered a bland performance and stagnant atmosphere. Given this, it’s safe to say that my expectations of Benjamin Francis Leftwich were far from high; particularly on a rainy October evening, when you usually find such mellow music to be better appreciated by a tender, hung-over head or during a sunny festival afternoon with a pint of cider in your hand.

However, I found myself amidst the most enraptured environment, created not only by the most attentive audience I have ever encountered, but also by Benjamin’s tender yet powerful voice.

Opening with ‘Pictures’, the contrast to the disinterested reception the largely youthful audience gave to Maria Hackman, the support act, was immediate. Although Benjamin’s performance was highly understated, his engaging stage presence was undeniable: simplicity is a virtue when your songs can resonate like this without any unnecessary embellishments.

There was something surprisingly endearing about Benjamin; from his shabby guitar strap tied up with string, to the quirky use of a typewriter tapping alongside the third song of the set, ‘Shine’. We also had an especially cheeky introduction to a brand new track, ‘Manchester Snow’, which he admitted was about a woman he had “had intercourse with 23 times in one week.”

Dirty confessions aside, the audience were already on Benjamin’s side with frequent shouts of “I love you Ben!” punctuating the hushed breaks between songs, tense with his obedient fans’ anticipation. Songs such as ‘Butterfly Culture’ and his ambient cover of Arcade Fire’s ‘Rebellion’ were warmly greeted with noises of eager approval even in their opening seconds.

The twin highlights of the fifteen song set were the two songs that Benjamin performed without a microphone, highlighting his admirable ability to not only capture the silence, but also to command it. Firstly, ‘Maps’ performed midway through the evening encapsulated everything that sets Benjamin apart from similar acoustic acts such as Ben Howard and Ed Sheeran, baring all the purity of sound via his incredibly heartfelt lyrics. ‘Atlas Hands’ was equally engaging. Choosing to close his encore with the audience encouraged to meekly sing along, the gig ended modestly though with a shared sense of intimacy.

It is a shame, therefore, that the strongest part of Benjamin’s performance highlighted the weakest, that being the extreme amounts of reverb on his microphone. This was all the more noticeable after the beautifully raw and untouched respite of his two mic-free performances. Having said this, the use of such an echoing and atmospheric sound was occasionally used to his advantage when Benjamin purposefully distanced himself from the microphone to create an ethereal and dramatic close to a song. Regardless of unnecessarily echoing vocals, I left feeling refreshed from the purity of such a simple performance.

It is very easy to be drawn into Benjamin’s unassuming yet tender presence, and I admit to having been engaged from gentle start to poignant finish. He came to sing his songs and we came to hear them, job well done.