This was my first time seeing Ben Harper live and it will be an experience I will never forget. The passion and emotion he pours into his songs is unmatched by any other performer I have seen. I had to drive many hours from Canada to see him in Albany and it was worth every minute of the long drive.
This is a little long, but I've been cajoled into putting it up...blame the guy at the bottom of this page.
This Is What Church Should Be Like, Fan Whispers
By Shawn Charniga
Witnessing Ben Harper in concert is a lesson on how to move an audience with minimal visible effort. His performance at the Palace Theater, along with that of his band the Innocent Criminals, on Tuesday, April 24 was not a spectacle of choreography or visual pyrotechnics. Instead, it was a monument to what one talented person can achieve with focus, deep feeling and honesty.
He's not a terribly remarkable-looking person, thin and of medium height. Imagine if you will the 70s-retro soul-brother look identified with Lenny Kravitz without the cloying air of sexuality. His signature instrument is a 100-year-old lap guitar designed for the Hawaiian slide style which is played with a steel bar held in the left hand. He sits on a quilt-draped chair, hunched over his odd guitar with his eyes closed, and just sings. This strange mix of elements meshes into a surprisingly harmonious whole.
Harper pens relatively simple groove-based songs based around his stellar command of the guitar and his direct, honest lyrics. These lyrics document the struggle of a sensitive, conscientious young man trying to hold onto his perspective and ideals in a hostile world. Many of his songs are messages to the hopeless and the hurt, intended as reminders of the absolute value of faith.
For most of the show he barely acknowledged his appreciative audience, offering little more than a hushed "Thank You" after every few numbers. He opened up later on, joking and telling a story or two. For the most part, he just sat still and stayed tapped into whatever place it is that he draws his inspiration from.
Harper makes no secret of his appreciation of and debt to Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix. His singing voice bears a great resemblance to Marley's out-of-body wailing, and much of his ensemble acoustic playing closely recalls Redemption Song.
He also has a fondness for wrenching neo-Hendrixian electronic screams from his instrument. During several of his extended solos over the band, he switched from his usual gentle coaxing approach to the guitar and whipped into being a screaming sonic nightmare.
He manages to overcomes these potential stumbling blocks through sheer conviction and soul. Many musicians have the ability to reach deep inside themselves and bring up something powerful, and then communicate it to the audience through their voice or their instrument.
It is a rare gift, but rarer still is the ability to force the listener to look inward and confront the feelings they would much rather not acknowledge. Harper's greatest asset is this ability to do this with nothing more than his voice and a wooden box strung with wire.
The show had three distinct segments. The first and third were full-band performances featuring an electric bassist, a kit drummer and a percussionist. The songs they played together were rhythmic and heavy. It's a pity that the sound engineers were unable to deliver the sound more cleanly...what did manage to cut through the low-frequency muck sounded good enough to make the listener long for what was not audible.
The solo acoustic set that served as the bridge was so good that it was almost a shame to see the rest of the band amble back onstage. The sound was terrific, as every nuance of Harper's voice and gentle strumming were carried so cleanly to the ears that he could have been performing alone in his living room. He performed several originals and a cover of the Verve's The Drugs Don't Work, all of which positively burst with aching emotion.
He had the audience entirely under his spell during these songs. The audience stood in rapt attention, not moving and not making a sound. After this half-hour public confession, the other three musicians rejoined him and they played on into the night. The volume gradually increased until the climatic moment of the final song, when the thud of the drums was so loud that those in the front of the house could feel their internal organs shaking.
Harper beat his guitar into a frenzy of feedback and laid it on the stage, while the band milled about, grinning and waving to the audience while this beautifully godawful hurricane of noise blistered the eardrums. It went on for minutes, until a roadie came out and adjusted a knob that changed this sound into something like a huge engine running dry of oil and grinding to a smoky halt. The lights came up, and the evening was over...
...For most of the audience anyway. A small group of devoted fans waited near the tour buses for over an hour, shivering and talking, until the musicians left the theater one by one and indulged them with pictures and autographs. Bass player Juan Nelson was the most sociable, talking at length with fans he knew from earlier shows. Harper was the last to appear, and his autographing period was curtailed by the band's apparently inflexible travel schedule. He did, however, come across as truly appreciative of this display of appreciation despite his obvious aggravation at being whisked away to the next show.
This is the third show that I have gone to see of Ben's. They have all been equally amazing, but this one because it is in my home town was unbelievable. The only times that I have ever gotten chills at a concert where at ones of this man. The emotion and energy that he spills into every word and note is amazing. Many of the songs were great but a few stick out above them all. Walk Away touched me, it is such a great song. Sexual Healing was amazing I waited and hoped for that song to be played all night and was very happy when it was. I brought three friends that had never seen Ben before two of which barely knew his music. They where all very impressed, one went out and bought LFM the next day. Antoher who before the show kind of had a negative comment about Ben's voice, I kept my mouth shut, after the show he raved about how well Ben could sing, and the third a local writer, wrote an amazing article about the show that I am going to get him to put it up here. Finally the night ended with being able to meet the whole band, which is an exerience that I will never forget. I look forward to the next time that Ben and the Innocent Crimminals come to NY. Thank you for an amazing night.
This show was out of this world! I travelled alone, and was just one with Ben and the band. I befriended a couple of the security guards who got me in back-stage after the show, and Ben, Juan, David and Dean are all so cool, down-to-earth, and so genuine. I cannot thank them and the people I met enough for such an amazing and spiritual show.
only amazingness describes ben onstage... voodoo child was stunning and the soft encore left the audience silent. (especially on widow). THe palace theater is also a beautiful venue to be at. Thank you ben once again.
One of the best things about coming to
a Ben Harper show, is the cool people
that you meet. This show was a dream
come true for me. Thank you Ben, David,
Dean, & Juan. I love you all.
What a show. Just look at the set list and you know that it had to have something. Ben and the boys pretty much just ripped through the entire show playing for around 2 hours and 45 minutes straight through. I dont know if anyone else is notcing this but i feel like bens jams are getting longer and better. Attitude was just awesome with David and Dean doing a little drum soloing before jumping into Concrete Jungle. Whipping Boy was awesome Ben had a very nice jam in it different than others I have. I may be wrong about it but it seemed like it was longer than any other version I have heard. The new intro to Ground On Down is awesome this being my first time hearing it and he basically cut everyone up with the sound on this. Vodoo Child was just sick. I even saw the security guards getting into this one, because man he was playing so hard tonight. The acoustic encore was great a very mellow one at that. Roses as I have said before was the best I have heard even better than on LFM. He sang it differently tonight with more soul and vocals then on the LFM version. Sexual Healing also ripped and Ben added a nice soul cry at the end which closed it out quite well. And of course faded was insane as it always is. Check the message board for notes on what was said at the show. Peace.