You know an artist’s career is heading in the right direction when each time they play a town the venue capacity gets a bit bigger. Benjamin Francis Leftwich has been no stranger to Irish shores and this time he chose to end his tour with a date in Whelan’s.
The night was opened by Joe Janiak, who looks like he should be playing in the Bay Area in the late sixties. Fortunately, he has the voice and the songs to live up to his gorgeous hair, yes, he has gorgeous hair! Janiak is an endearing character who never seems to stand still, expressing emotion through movement with his guitar as well as through his songs. He introduces us to a song about his uncle he never knew because of suicide. ‘Eddie’, however, is an upbeat tune, in contrast to the song’s origins. For his final song of the night, High Streets, Janiak introduces a harmonica and say’s he now looks like a ‘retarded robot’. Mr Janiak easily won over fans with his interesting vocal style.
Next up was Marika Hackman, who was faced with a harder task than her predecessor. The venue was now filling up quite quickly with Saturday night revelers and Hackman had the unenviable task of competing with them. Hackman took to the stage, just her and her electric guitar. Her delicate voice against her guitar prove an interesting timeless match but these ears would like to hear them without Saturday night chatter. Stand out tracks though were the awesome ‘Mountain Spines’ and set closer ‘You Come Down’.
The venue is now filled to capacity and there’s a little wait until Benjamin Francis Leftwich comes to the stage. Despite the stage being full of instruments, Leftwich performs the first song of the night ‘Pictures’ sans band. Leftwich’s tender vocals are wrapped in reverb but he cleverly uses this as he steps back from the microphone to end the song. He’s joined on stage for ‘1904’and the band beautifully add layers without overcrowding the song. The same can be said for ‘Shine’ which opens with a simple drum rhythm.
Leftwich’s debut, ‘Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’, is now eighteen months old but his set varies outside its realms. Tracks from his first E.P. get an airing, ‘Hole in my Hand’ and ‘Maps’ which he performs without the band, without microphone standing in front of the stage, just him.
For ‘Butterfly Culture’, Ben is joined on keys by his band member, Paul. It’s all the song needs, anymore would have taken away from the delicate nature of the track. The crowd show their appreciation and are listening intently. Having to cancel a gig in Northern Ireland the day before due to illness, Leftwich explains how happy he is that he decided to continue to do this one, the last on the tour. He then introduces a new song which he performs with the band ‘In The Open’, which he says is about his favourite venue in his hometown in York, The Duchess. And ‘the carpark on top of the venue, dragons, a stoner girl, a Scottish footballer and er.. tits’, which obviously gets a giggle. The Whelan’s crowd is then treated to a full band rendition of Arcade Fire’s ‘Rebellion’. It features some great work which gives it a slightly country feel.
It’s over a year since your scribe last saw Leftwich live, the addition of the band adds a depth to the overall sound of Benjamin Francis Leftwich but still allows him to be himself. What’s more noticeable is that Leftwich has grown in stature as a performer. Previously, he seemed a little shy but now appears more at home on stage, even dealing with Dublin’s finest hecklers.
The band play the album’s title track,’Last Smoke Before The Snowstorm’ before leaving the stage, it is very apparent though, no one is moving anywhere. Before long, the band are back on stage. As it’s the last night of the tour, there are thanks for all the crew, the bus driver and even Ben’s mate who sells his t-shirts and he genuinely seems delighted to have had such a crowd to finish it all off. After ‘Don’t Go Slow’, the band leave the stage to Ben, who again without amplification sings a definite crowd favourite, ‘Atlas Hands’. It’s something special as they sing along. A smile creeps across Leftwich’s face, as to the left of the stage some of the audience sing the harmony lines.
By the end of the evening, the leaps and bounds Leftwich has made is no secret. He leaves the stage saying he’ll hopefully be back next year. What is obvious though is that a second album of the same caliber will rocket his career.