Ben Harper is an impressive performer. The last time I saw him, about four years ago, he played a thunderous three hour and a half show with his then new band Relentless7. This time he is on his own, mostly. And while the mood is very much laid back and relaxed, Harper is mesmerising from start to finish.
“I apologise for wearing Denims in such a formal venue”, he says. Then he starts to get slightly excited. “But I’ve got to tell you, these jeans are awesome! Don’t they look cool? And I think Denims have been around long enough to be considered formal wear now, right?”
All through the two-hour-and-a-half concert, he addresses us in the same simple and friendly manner. He tells us about the Southbank skatepark which is threatened with demolition, about how some of his songs have taken on new meanings along the years, and when someone in the audience calls him he doesn’t ignore them. ‘I might miss my train’, a woman says between two songs near the end of the concert. “But I don’t want to go”. “And I don’t want you to go”, Ben answers with a smile before swiftly launching into ‘Burn One Down’.
Over the course of his epic performance, Harper shows us his many talents. There is acoustic Ben as he plays his classic ‘Forever’, electric Ben when he pulls out his electric guitar for a spirited rendition of ‘Please Bleed’, and even jazzy Ben as he treats us to a new piano song titled ‘Trying Not To Fall In Love With You’. The latter is particularly impressive, both for its unusually bouncing rhythm and Harper’s vocal performance which is nothing short of explosive, even bringing Pavarotti to mind at one point (no kidding!)
Ben Harper is joined by his mother Ellen during the first encore. She is obviously feeling uneasy, but that doesn’t stop her from giving a beautiful performance. Their voices complement each other in a way that recalls the effortless pairing of Johnny Cash and June Carter. I cannot recommend enough Ben and Ellen’s upcoming album Childhood Home (for which I’ve written a review right here).
The goosebump moment of the evening might have been Ben’s lovely piano cover of Mazzy Star’s ‘Fade Into You’, which is a perfect fit for his voice. A nice surprise too is his cover of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’, a classic if there ever was one. His take on it is slow and intense, with his slide guitar giving it a darker edge.
Ben Harper then moves his chair to the very front of the stage, and with no microphone, he delivers a truly magical ‘Suzie Blue’. For a few minutes, the 2000 capacity Palladium feels like a small pub with Ben singing to each and everyone of us. “We’ll make love to the memories, they will always see us through, the day is new”.
Strangely, it’s Ben Harper himself who then says what everyone has on their lips: “You’ve blown me away”.