Ben Harper review: a perfect spring evening with the crooner proves cathartic

Ben Harper. Picture: David Johns
Ben Harper. Picture: David Johns

SEEING Ben Harper in concert is a cathartic experience.

The charismatic frontman graced the stage with long-time band The Innocent Criminals last night, on a perfect spring evening at Kings Park Botanical Gardens.

Support act Pierce Brothers warmed up the crowd with their unique brand of folk music – their big sound and strong stage presence paving the way for what was to be a memorable night.

When it came time for Harper and co to appear, the band arrived onstage first.

Harper, possibly one of the most humble frontmen in the world, arrived with his back to the crowd, allowing his bandmates to share the limelight.

He only turned around in time to sing the opening lines from 1995’s Oppression – a perfect opener to an evening filled with joy, laughter and plenty of dancing.

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Percussionist Leon Mobley stole the show early in the night, featuring prominently on early tracks including Don’t Take That Attitude to Your Grave.

The reggae sound of Finding Our Way was the first pick off the band’s new album Call It What It Is, which was the perfect segue way to 2007’s In The Colours.

The first of many poignant moments came when Harper removed his hat from his head and dedicated the track Morning Yearning to his “dear friend Heath Ledger”.

Harper shared a fond memory of local favourite Ledger, who directed the video for Morning Yearning.

Harper said Ledger had initially wanted to direct the video for Better Way and was keen to set the musician on fire for the clip.

After much “arguing”, the two settled on Morning Yearning – and no fire.

A beautiful rendition of Roses From My Friends followed, before the band kicked off Fight For Your Mind.

The song prompted an amazing solo by bassist Juan Nelson, who has got to be one of the most incredible bass players alive.

Not to be outdone, Nelson and Harper then segued into a “duel” of sorts – Harper on the slide guitar and Nelson on his bass.

It was a lesson in musical artistry and one this reviewer will not forget anytime soon.

Burn One Down and Faded closed out the first set before the band returned for the first encore, featuring Amen Omen and crowd favourite Steal My Kisses.

But it was when Harper came back onstage that his presence and voice was felt even more, with the beautiful Walk Away leaving few dry eyes in the crowd.

He followed it up with a perfect solo rendition of Waiting On An Angel, and an amazing rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s Cover Me.

Finally, in the most perfect way possible, the band returned to the stage for one more song – the perfect way to end a perfect night – the 2003 hit With My Own Two Hands.

Harper and his band appeared genuinely humbled by the reception and it was the perfect way to end what was a spectacular night.