It’s been eight years since Ben Harper had played with the Innocent Criminals live but the band came together in 2015 to record a new album Call It What It Is. On the eve of the album’s release, Harper and the Criminals performed a rousing set at the Beacon Theater in New York City. Opening up for them was NYC based singer-songwriter Christoper Paul Stelling, a live favorite of mine given his penchant for performing within the crowd. While Stelling didn’t have his full band in tow unfortunately, there was a good chunk of the theatre already filled to watch him perform. And those folks were very into his set, rising up from their seats to enjoy his set, a rare sight for an opener.
The main course for the evening arrived not long after Stelling departed the stage (unfortunately not while strumming through the crowd). Harper and the band, including drummer Oliver Charles, percussionist Leon Mobley, bassist Juan Nelson, guitarist Michael Ward and Jason Yates on keys, took the stage to hearty applause and what they witnessed was one of the most sincere, heartfelt performances that any musician ever could give. The group performed a smattering of their classics interspersed with tracks from Call It What It Is. It was a real pleasure to hear Harper croon “Diamonds on the Inside” and follow it up the tender “Deeper and Deeper”. “Excuse Me Mr.”, “Burn One Down” and “Steal My Kisses” were other awesome classic to hear live. During the show, Harper went solo for a couple of songs in the middle and people frequently rose from their seats to dance. It was a smouldering performance of bluesy, reggae-tinged rock that showed the remarkably rich heart of Harper and a fine evening. Catch Harper on tour throughout the summer. Dates follow a photo set from the Beacon Theatre below.