Thursday, 15 November 2012

Live Review - Ben Harper

Published in Time Off magazine (Brisbane), November 14.

Ben Harper
Convention Centre, Brisbane
November 9th, 2012

At this point in his career, Ben Harper can afford to be a little indulgent.  It’s a touch over twenty years since he released the seminal Pleasure And Pain album, and in the ensuing time, he’s become an icon in modern roots music – an interpreter, an innovator, an inspiration to many, both musicians and fans of same.

AP FIle Photo
And so he tours this time around in solo mode, a guise he’s not before undertaken to such an extent, his live solo output to date limited to the odd song during Innocent Criminal sets, or Relentless7.  And this brings us back to Harper being indulgent, for that’s what a solo tour is, particularly at this point in an artist’s career – three hours of you.  Nothing else, no one else, just you, and that’s how it goes down at the Convention Centre, in front of a near-capacity audience.

Now, Harper can pull this off – the man tonight is in ebullient form, his repartee with the audience is genuine and affectionate (perhaps a little too genuine in places), his passion for what he does is truly real, and so he cruises, shuffles, bumps through a set which finally comes to an end some three hours after it began, a deep and meaningful look at a great many of the songs which have made him great, recreated in the form they doubtlessly began as – solo acoustic.

For me however, the appeal of Harper’s music lies in his sonic interactions with his band, whether that be the all-conquering Innocent Criminals or the more stoner rock influenced Relentless7, and so to be brutally honest, tonight has me losing focus on many occasions, slipping into my own head where things are more interesting.

He begins with ‘Diamonds On The Inside’, which has people in raptures.  He gives us ‘Burn One Down’, which at that point (around two and a half hours in), I really, really wish I could have.  He plays a few new, unheard songs, which are solid.  He plays ‘With My Own Two Hands’, he plays a freaked out slide version of Leonard Cohen’s extremely seminal and extremely overplayed ‘Halleluiah’.  He plays a Pearl Jam cover on the marimba, which is great, and, in the set highlight, he belts and buckles and bullies the lone piano into a crescendo of thundering, booming vocal-infused sonic sludge which raises hairs and quickens the heart.

But despite the fact the show is fine, great in parts, its impact, for me, is lessened because it’s a three hour set which was an hour and a half too long, an at times rambling over-indulgent monster, which really could have benefitted from the interactions with a band Harper does so well.  It left me wanting really, I felt it needed more.

Samuel J. Fell

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