I know she’s home
leaning on somebody loving life
all in my mind the anvil and the weight on my back
Ben Howard, ‘Small Things’
The Hordern Pavillion was not her favourite venue but the look on her face told me she was pleased at the turn out for this gig. Ben Howard had cancelled his original date and pushed back the performance two months, much to the disappointment of his fans. The venue’s website had said his set wouldn’t begin until 9:15 PM but when she walked into the general admission at 9:06 PM, he was already on stage, playing a song from the newest album: one she did not recognise. To be completely honest, she was here for ‘Black Flies’ and the rest was all very pleasant background noise.
The crowd was thick and milling, filled mostly with hipster men clasping plastic cups of beer and leaning their shaggy heads over hippy-styled girlfriends in chunky heels and superfluous hats. The room, a big hall with tiered seating on three sides and an expansive standing area all geared towards the stage. There was Ben, backlit and frontlit and all kinds of lit really, crooning away to his guitar, surrounded by more musical instruments than musicians to play them. The band was sizeable enough: a drummer at the back, keyboardist and various percussion instruments downstage right, bass player upstage right, lead guitarist upstage left and a woman alternating between cello, guitar and obscure oversized harmonica-pipe thing downstage left.
Making her way through the crowd, she was grateful for the decision to wear shoes with a hidden wedge heel. However, she was able to see little more than the lighting rig and dozens of smart phones jutting up from the crowd. Ten years ago, people at live music gigs would have had considerably less sore arms, I suppose.
Alessa made herself comfortable in the front row of a section of seats that were completely unoccupied. She had been sitting there enjoying the last five songs when a lanky young man with thick-framed glasses and a patchy beard plopped into the seat beside her, legs splayed out front and arms stretched lazily across each chair back. Alessa surveyed his shoes: beaten up black Vans. They were in no better condition than the shredded hems of his tight-fitting jeans with a tear in one knee.
“You couldn’t have sat somewhere else? Anywhere else?” she snapped, gesturing at the empty seats around them.
It was as if he moved in slow motion, removing his glasses and angling his head to look down his long nose at her. Even his voice was slow. “Sugar, you just looked so utterly lonely.”
Alessa couldn’t help it. She burst out laughing. “Sugar? Surely, you have better lines than that?” There was something about how he said it that showed he’d never used a line before.
He made a face and replaced his glasses, making no effort to respect the personal space bubble. “I saved the best for you? Honestly, walking over here and sitting down was the hardest thing I’ve had to do all day.”
Alessa fixed him with a look, quirked eyebrow and pursed lips.
“All week. All month even.”
She sighed. “You need more stimulating things in your life,” she said, patting his leg sympathetically.
He shot her a sidelong glance. “I’m sure you’ll take care of that for me.”
Alessa laughed. “Oh, alright then, what’s your name?”
“Jason,” he replied with an easy albeit slightly crooked smile.