The last McMenamins Edgefield Concert on the Lawn for the year welcomed not only indie-folk Ben Howard, but the autumn season as well. The Portland-area venue was a dreamscape with the sky full of clouds threatening rain, but the sight gifted a golden horizon peeking through the willow and aspen trees around the edge of the lawn.
Concert-goers shed their summer clothes for fall fashion, dawning boots and bringing extra blankets for their seats.
The sun set with the dreamy sounds of the North Carolina band Wye Oak, who is touring alongside Ben Howard for the next month.
During the change-over between Wye Oak and Ben Howard, a small group of people sat around a fire pit and others wandered under twinkling lights strung along the trees covering the beer garden and food tents. The change from Wye Oak’s simple stage design to Ben Howard’s more harshly lit and abstract indicated the mood change to come. Howard’s set began with a single beam of light shining on him from the side stage. Behind him, fog rolled over the silhouettes of his band, their back light pulsing slowly like a heartbeat.
Despite the creeping autumn chill, the goosebumps came in waves following Howard’s inherently emotional vocals.
Howard’s second song is untitled and not listed on his 2018 album, “Noonday Dream.” As he sang, “I bet you think everything’s in its rightful place,” a strong breeze rushed through the aspen tree leaves. The sudden chill drew the attention from a few concert-goers at the back of the lawn, but punctuated the lyrics that followed: “Unknowing am I of the wind that took my eye / Unknowing am I of the wind.”
The rest of the set followed suit with moody themes and dramatic lighting as Howard performed much of “Noonday Dream.” The visuals playing on the screen behind him seemed purposely distorted and reminiscent of a Rorschach Test. Intermittently, the projection of dream-like scenes and landscapes, featuring an indiscernible figure walking through them, would glitch and start again. With these dystopian dreamscapes, the instrumental melodies and interludes were drawn out and “romantic,” as Howard put it playfully.
While some people seemed to get more cozy on the damp hill, many left before the encore, presumably to beat the bad traffic that comes with the venue parking. When Howard left the stage, the audience was alarmingly quiet despite a quality performance and impressive turnout to the third night of Howard’s first tour in North America in four years.
When the possibility of an encore seemed to fade, Howard and his band entered the dark stage. He played an elaborate set consisting of two songs from the 2014 album “I Forget Where We Were,” and the recently released single “Hot Heavy Summer”.
Howard ended with “Murmurations” from “Noonday Dream.” The lyrics, “It’s so peaceful here / No one to fuck it up / I could lay here for hours and hours” bid goodbye to those who stayed until the end.