Live Review: Benjamin Francis Leftwich
Online Music Editor Tom Bosher reviews Benjamin Francis Leftwich at the Exeter Phoenix.
Exeter was the last of a 26 night tour run for Benjamin Francis Leftwich, during the course of which he did get covid. So you might expect a degree of tiredness in performance, but there was what I’d call a very full and audible quietness to the set, with no shortness of spirit. It was as though the audience signed a pact of mellowness with both the warm-up act Wounded Bear, and BFL, for a night of lowkey but strong performances.
Josh Finn aka Wounded Bear, was a perfect act to setup the vibe of the evening. Coming out donning a winter sweater, he struck up a warm and friendly relation with the audience, like what you’d expect at a quiet local pub, which is pretty impressive considering the phoenix is the size it is. With a guitar tone warm enough to match his sweater, his songs carried a frankness in story telling and lightness in play that culminated in a sweet and honest sound. Even in illness (we were assured not covid), he gave a great performance, weirdly, vocally somewhat reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen, softened in the realm of ballads and acoustic guitar but with that certain kind of unshakeable song-writer spirit pushing through. Go check him out on Spotify here.
Not having encountered BFL much other than his incredible ‘Real Friends‘, I didn’t know what to expect out of him in live performance. He came on stage with a kind of nervousness that was soon quelled with performance of song. Exceptionally down to earth, he extended the mellowness of Wounded Bear. ‘Quiet power’ sounds like a cult but I feel like its the appropriate phrase, as a pervading softness that you’d obviously expect from acoustic-guitar singer songwriters, but BFL seemed to really step into and understand. His reverb pedals helped to achieve and maintain a sonic presence that’s almost ethereal, filling out a soundscape that his breathy vocals seem to cruise through. Whilst much of his performance used this soundscape to fill the room, his appreciation of the audience’s active quietness meant he was able to reciprocate. After only two or three songs, ‘If you’ll be quiet, I’ll be quiet too’, to which he turned off the Amp system and came to the front of the stage and performed his infamous ‘Pictures‘ to the crowd. Whilst veneered by a glacial reverb throughout most of the set to suit the unique vibrato quality of his voice, there was something about hearing it naked, out of the added sheen and just there, in front of you, dry and crisp. Forming a gentle and kindly report with the audience meant he could then perform his final song ‘Atlas Hands‘ in the same way, but actually coming down off stage into the audience.
You did feel he gave as much of himself into each song, never wavering in energy. His heartfelt performance combined with telling the origins of songs and relating stories of his recently passed father amalgamated into the set feeling like a warm and gentle hug. He spoke of a story (inspiring a song) which he reads every day as a consoling means of comfort about a man weathering a storm. If your brain needs to just relax and be soothed, I highly recommend the easy listening of Benjamin Francis Leftwich, and if you can see him live, I certainly would again.