Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s music is not precisely what one thinks about when they hear the words “nightclub on a Saturday night”. The whole concept sounds contradictory. And yet the combination of the two that I got to see at Cavern on the 6th of April was surprising and charming, in the best possible way.
The opening act, Rosie Carney, was a delight of cello and guitar above which a velvety voice kept soaring. Her music sounded familiar. Carney played with a formula for soft indie guitar music I felt I had heard before, but never with this particular arrangement of strings, and never with such a special voice on top. A shy presence onstage, she reminded me of Florence Welch’s quiet voice – both Carney and Welch could be powerful and belt whenever they wanted to, but they don’t need to. “Awake Me” was definitely a highlight of her set, as was “Thousand”. Rosie Carney sounded unpretentious, gentle and humble, letting her long notes and her silences in between those say everything.
he managed to turn a normal concert setup into an intimate evening
And then, nearly an hour after the start of the first set, the lights went down to a dim blue glow and Peter Gabriel’s orchestral version of “Heroes” by David Bowie started playing through the speakers of Cavern Club. That’s when I knew I would like the show. The sound wrapped around the audience, already packed into the small space between the mixing desk at the back and the stage. I don’t know if that was a decision Cavern made, or if it was part of Leftwich’s set, but it definitely added emotion to the concert.
When he finally walked the steps to get onstage, Benjamin Francis Leftwich looked as if he was going to pick up his guitar and sing some songs in his own living room. Dressed in jeans and a hoodie, it was clear that he felt more comfortable without being glorified by his audience. And the best thing about his set was that he managed to turn a normal concert setup into an intimate evening that rather felt like we were collectively singing songs together, maybe after a summer afternoon garden party. “Butterfly Culture” is one of the best examples of this collectiveness that connected the whole audience: this mysterious group of people he sang about, the notes from this song about a girl, they seemed to reach the rows of people at the back of the room. The front rows started singing along, and if someone had lit up some sparklers, I would have not been surprised at all.
he worked incredibly well with an audience that appreciated the honesty in his songs
Leftwich was upfront and honest about him feeling nervous, but his sped-up talk about this water bottle he had received as a present from his mother felt both raw and endearing at the same time. Yet no one was expecting it when he turned off his mic and amplifiers and walked to the edge of the stage, singing us his music completely unplugged. The sound wasn’t the best, and I’m not sure if the people at the back could hear it too well, but it didn’t matter: the silence was all-encompassing. The peace he sings about in “Gratitude”, the last song before the encores, could be touched and felt, floating around a captivated audience.
His sound was minimal, even compared to his studio recordings, and that didn’t work as well for his new songs (even though the other musician on stage, who played keyboards, synths and all sorts of pads, did add a lot of dimension), which are significantly more atmospheric than his older stuff. Nonetheless, one could perceive a clear direction that Leftwich had decided to take his live show on, which worked incredibly well with an audience that appreciated the honesty in his songs. Endlessly grateful for the people he had encountered, the places he had seen and the things he had been able to do, Benjamin Leftwich’s voice was just the way it sounded in his recordings: timid but decisive, young but wise – And the connection he created amongst all of us was more than enough to make his live act worth it.