Reviews

Ben Harper

Eddie Ciminelli

Amongst his contemporaries, Harper belongs to a small club that still recognizes the importance of returning to one's roots, ie small, intimate venues. Thank God.

Ben Harper

Ben Harper

City: New York
Venue: The Supper Club
Date: 2006-04-13

Ben Harper's quickly scheduled and barely publicized show at the Supper Club got started early and ended late. The singer/songwriter played a blistering three-hour set of his trademark hard-nosed rock, reggae-infused blues, and acoustic folk. Amongst his contemporaries, Harper belongs to a small club that still recognizes the importance of returning to one's roots. One-off shows in small venues like this reward the fans who have been with Harper since the beginning -- even if such appearances are fewer and further between since he's begun to prosper in the mainstream. The show was pretty hush-hush, as Ben Harper club members were the first to be able to snag tickets, getting there's before a blitzing of Ticketmaster left the show sold out and Craigslist's auction block blowing up. Harper and his Criminals bask in warm green and purple lights as they stand above five knit-woven carpets with distinct, eye-pleasing Mexcian patterns. The set is comprised of many of Harper's famous soft ballads alongside some harder material, many pulled from his recently released double LP Both Sides of the Gun.


Ben Harper
multiple songs MySpace
In his 2002 documentary Pleasure & Pain, Harper was adamant about his reluctance to accept labels bestowed upon him and his music; he was hesitant to be known as a writer of "protest music". But if there is a more socially conscientious song than "Black Rain" released this year (or in the past five years, for that matter), I would be interested to hear it. Carried by a thick, '70s, 125th Street Harlem kind of funk, Harper shames the administration ("you don't fight for us/ but expect us to die for you") and their follies with the Katrina disaster, then takes it a step further with a call to action ("You may kill the revolutionary/ but the revolution/ you can never bury/ it won't be long before the people fill the streets/ to take you down!"). If Harper doesn't want labels, then Harper shouldn't get them, but you still have to pat the man on the back for refusing to forget what went down last fall. Czech writer Milan Kundera wrote about the power of a society and its direct relationship with its collective memory. Sometimes things happen that aren't pretty, that leave an embarrassing mark on the pages of history. The power of the people lies in their memory -- the fuel to the rage, the serum to injustice. Harper's take is a glaring reminder that though all the mistakes and misjudgments have so far gone unpunished, they are by no means forgotten. "Better Way" is the smell of the best breakfast you ever awoke to find waiting for you. It spreads an optimistic warmth across the crowd but also begs each set of ears to ask some of the bigger questions: "What good is a man that doesn't take a stand?" "You have a right to your dream and don't be denied.". And his voice. It's been a few weeks since Quentin B. Huff reviewed the new album for PopMatters and took a couple shots at Harper, saying, "quite frankly he wasn't blessed with the best pipes in the business." I'm still at a loss for words. Because, tonight, it was abundantly clear that despite the enormous talent of the Innocent Criminals, despite the nasty skills of Harper on his slide, this music is loved for one simple reason -- Harper's voice. Whether he is drawing out his words, articulating syllables as if they were covering up a lump in his throat during an overcast somber rendition of "Another Lonely Day", or yelping maniacally during "Better Way", the beautiful words sewn into each song contain a message that wouldn't be nearly as effective from the lips of any other shaman. Each song can sound completely different on any given night, depending upon how Harper plays with his pitch He cradles his words like poetry, completely in control of his instrument, the crowd held in his palm. Throughout the course of the evening I see actor Heath Ledger running around the balcony taking hundreds of shots of the band, smiling as if it's his first concert. Victoria's Secret model Gisele Bundchen looks like she is going to run out of lighter fluid as she headbangs beside me for two straight hours. As amazing as this show is, I may be as impressed by the star power it attracted -- not because of their presence in the room, but more so because of their behavior. Seeing two high profiles congregating with the rest of us common people in a communion and celebration of song was a nice reminder of the binding power of music, and a testimony to the influence of Harper's message. To paraphrase Wesley Snipe's forgotten playground stud Sydney Dean, it was a welcome reminder that a lot of people aren't satisfied just listening to music anymore -- they're interested in hearing it, too.

Music

Books

Film

Recent
By the Book

Jack Halberstam's 'Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire' (excerpt)

Enjoy this excerpt of Wild Things: The Disorder of Desire, wherein Jack Halberstam offers an alternative history of sexuality by tracing the ways in which wildness has been associated with queerness and queer bodies throughout the 20th century.

Jack Halberstam
Music

Sotto Voce's 'Your Husband, the Governor' Is Beautifully Twisted DIY Indie Folk-rock

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Ryan Gabos releases another odd, gorgeous home studio recording under the moniker Sotto Voce.

Music

Numün's 'voyage au soleil' Is a Trippy, Ambient Ride and Ambitious Debut

Eclectic instrumental trio numün combine a wealth of influences to create a vibe that's both spacey and earthy on voyage au soleil.

Music

L7's 'Smell the Magic' Is 30 and Packs a Feminist Punch

Abortion is under threat again, and there's a sex offender in the Oval Office. A fitting time, in short, to crank up the righteously angry vocals of feminist hard rock heavy hitters like L7.

Books

Can Queer Studies Rescue American Universities?

Matt Brim's Poor Queer Studies underscores the impact of poorer disciplines and institutions, which often do more to translate and apply transformative intellectual ideas in the world than do their ivory-tower counterparts.

Music

Jim White Offers a "Smart Ass Reply" (premiere)

Jesus and Alice Cooper are tighter than you think, but a young Jim White was taught to treat them as polar opposites. Then an eight-track saved his soul and maybe his life.

Music

Ed Harcourt Paints From 'Monochrome to Colour'

British musician Ed Harcourt's instrumental music is full of turbulent swells and swirls that somehow maintain a dignified beauty on Monochrome to Colour.

Music

West London's WheelUP Merges Broken Beat and Hip-Hop on "Stay For Long" (premiere)

West London producer WheelUP reached across the pond to Brint Story to bring some rapid-fire American hip-hop to his broken beat revival on "Stay For Long".

Music

PM Picks Playlist 4: Stellie, The Brooks, Maude La​tour

Today's playlist features the premiere of Stellie's "Colours", some top-class funk from the Brooks, Berne's eco-conscious electropop, clever indie-pop from Maude Latour, Jaguar Jonze rocking the mic, and Meresha's "alien pop".

Culture

Plattetopia: The Prefabrication of Utopia in East Berlin

With the fall of the Berlin Wall came the licence to take a wrecking ball to its nightmare of repression. But there began the unwritten violence of Die Wende, the peaceful revolution that hides the Oedipal violence of one order killing another.

Film

What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .

Music

Electrosoul's Flõstate Find "Home Ground" on Stunning Song (premiere)

Flõstate are an electrosoul duo comprised of producer MKSTN and singer-songwriter Avery Florence that create a mesmerizing downtempo number with "Home Ground".

Music

Orchestra Baobab Celebrate 50 Years with Vinyl of '​Specialist in All Styles'

As Orchestra Baobab turn 50, their comeback album Specialist in All Styles gets a vinyl reissue.

Music

Hot Chip Stay Up for 'Late Night Tales'

Hot Chip's contribution to the perennial compilation project Late Night Tales is a mixed bag, but its high points are consistent with the band's excellence.

Music

The Budos Band Call for Action on "The Wrangler" (premiere)

The Budos Band call on their fans for action with the powerful new track "The Wrangler" that falls somewhere between '60s spy thriller soundtrack and '70s Ethiojazz.

Music

Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" Ruminates on Our Second-Guesses (premiere)

A deep reflection on breaking up, Nashville indie rock/Americana outfit Creature Comfort's "Woke Up Drunk" is the most personal track from their new album, Home Team.

Books

For Don DeLillo, 'The Silence' Is Deafening

In Don DeLillo's latest novel, The Silence, it is much like our post-pandemic life -- everything changed but nothing happened. Are we listening?

Music

Brett Newski Plays Slacker Prankster on "What Are You Smoking?" (premiere)

Is social distancing something we've been doing, unwittingly, all along? Brett Newski pulls some pranks, raises some questions in "What Are You Smoking?".


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.