Reviewer: Jonny Black
Ben Harper is a singer-songwriter and multi instrumentalist who effortlessly fuses folk, rock, gospel, rock and reggae. He is a multi Grammy award winner with twelve studio albums to date spanning a twenty year career. He hails from Pomona in California.
This has the feel of a comeback gig. Harper has not played live on these shores for a number of years and the sense of excitement and expectation this evening is rife. The theatre is packed with a loyal following from around the globe. Harpers appeal is wide reaching and his live reputation is legendary.
Adorned in white fedora and plaid shirt, Harper ambles casually onto the stage greeted by passionate approval. A minimalist stage is bedecked with an eclectic array of acoustic instruments and pianos. The gig begins with an understated classical guitar piece before he breaks into his first song of the night. The vocals are rich with emotion and the guitar playing extremely skillful. Here is a performer of exceptional talent who holds the audience throughout the two and a half hour set with charm, wit and musical mastery.
He tells us of his grandparents music shop in his native California where, as a child, he was exposed to a number of musicians including Leonard Cohen. He then delivers a beautifully crafted version of Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’ on a Weissenborn slide guitar. He changes instruments constantly, performing songs from his large back catalogue of albums including the hugely successful ‘Diamonds on the Inside’ and his first album ‘Welcome to the Cruel World’, which he recorded with the Blind Boys of Alabama.
The audience is transfixed throughout with his heart filled songs of love, regret and longing. He also sings politcally-motivated songs like ‘Mister’, which is particulary strong. Other song highlights are ‘Forever’, ‘Burn One Down’ and ‘Amen Omen’.
Time moves quickly when on the receiving end of such talent, however the evening is broken up by a ‘guest’ appearance from his mother, who joins him on stage to duet on new songs from his forthcoming album and an unannounced ten minute interval in which we can only assume a ‘comfort break’ was needed.
The evening ends as it started with Ben moving to the front of the stage and without the aid of amplification, singing a new song on ukulele. He receives a standing ovation from a hugely appreciative and adoring audience. Well deserved too – an immense solo performance.
Reviewed on 28th April 2014