Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals

Vector Arena, Auckland, December 2

Out of Steve and I, I think I got the better deal from this wonderful concert. Granted, Steve got up close to take some great photos, but he could only do so for the first three songs, whereas I, sitting further away, got to enjoy the whole show.

img_1576And what a show. This was my first time seeing Ben Harper and band, and now I know what the fuss has been all about. Harper oozes soul and cool, but he’s rather humble about it. He clearly loves what he does but he’s not so caught up in himself that it gets in the way. The best word I could think of to sum up this evening that it was joyous. And fun. Ok, that’s two words. But if you couldn’t feel the love of music and of life shining from the stage then boy had you had a rough day. Harper leads his band of virtuoso musicians through classic set of his best songs with style and ease and an absolute connection to the people in front of him. So much so that he can drop his microphone and wander out to front of stage to sing unaccompanied. And the music itself? A blend of reggae and pop and rock and soul, and blues, that the band delivers with energy, and, it has to be said, delight.

Harper doesn’t have to move frenetically about the stage to communicate his passion for his craft. In fact for several songs he is sitting playing his slide guitar – and this includes one memorable solo of at least fifteen minutes – but this serves to allow us, and him, to focus on the music. In between times Harper chats in a decidedly relaxed and California casual way, with a joke about his lack of hair (and a reference to his bald brethren in the audience) with observations about love, and about online hereditary sites. He’s 47, he’s seen life, and he’s at ease with how he delivers his art.

As charismatic as Harper is, it’s not just his show. The Innocent Criminals are some band. Drummer Oliver Charles, keyboardist Jason Yates and lead guitarist Jason Mozersky are all superb, but as the evening evolves two other members of the band develop quite distinctive personalities of their own. Percussionist Leon Mobley is a wonder of fluidity and rhythm with an infectious personality to boot. His solos on the bongos are a joy to watch and to listen to, as much a visual performance as a musical one.

The big man on the bass guitar, Juan Nelson, is a different character. He really is a big guy and he’s not built to prance about the stage like Mobley. But he is a real class act on bass. He delivers one fantastic long solo which demonstrates a range of musical styles, and then he immediately moves to stand next to Harper and trade phrases with him. And he has a good voice too.

Harper has toured here several times and has built an enthusiastic following. I hope he’ll return. If you’ve never seen him, I highly recommend grabbing a ticket. You are in for a treat.

And a brief word about opening act Miller Yule. We’ve talked about him a couple of times already on our Crave podcasts, when the Auckland singer songwriter released his debut EP Shoot Me In The Heart, and then when he played for the first time with a full band. He put on a promising set, with his band members playing tight and true. He’s beginning to develop a laid back Kiwi persona on stage, and I hope he sticks with his music. Worth a look if he’s on tour near you.




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