Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
WHERE: Kingsbury Hall
WHEN: Thursday night
THE BOTTOM LINE: This high-energy concert showcased Ben Harper's many playing styles as well as older fan favorites. Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals' sold-out concert at Kingsbury Hall on Thursday night was definitely one for the fans, especially longtime fans.
After the group's original Zooma Tour was canceled earlier this summer, they threw together another one at the last minute, this time launching it from Salt Lake City. Since Harper isn't out promoting a new album, this tour is his way of saying thanks to the many loyal fans who flock to his unclassifiable music.
Although the concert's set list included songs from all six of his studio albums, the night was largely dominated by numbers from Harper's first album "Welcome to the Cruel World," released in 1993. The more than two-hour concert, plus two encores, included something for everyone. From acoustic folk, to hard rock, to reggae, to soulful gospel, Harper remained delightfully outside the box.
Harper opened with "Whipping Boy," which he played seated on a wooden chair, accompanied by bass player Juan Nelson and drummer Oliver Charles. His slide guitar and soulful vocals stood out against the simple arrangement.
The rest of the Innocent Criminals, including percussionist Leon Mobley, keyboardist Jason Yates and guitarist Michael Ward, joined the group on stage for a rocking, percussion-heavy version of "Ground on Down."
Throughout the remainder of the show, Harper showcased his diverse range, playing various acoustic instruments as well as songs from a wide range of genres. From the hard-rocking "Temporary Remedy," a song about substance abuse, Harper changed gears to the soulful gospel tune "Take My Hand," from his Grammy-winning album with the Blind Boys of Alabama, "There Will Be a Light." The latter had the audience on its feet, clapping as Nelson sang an a cappella gospel solo.
From there Harper went on to play the mellow acoustic folk song "Please Me Like You Want To," only to follow it with one of the night's highlights, "Amen Omen," and finish the set with the always crowd-pleasing "Glory and Consequence."
When Harper emerged to play several acoustic solos in the first of two encores, the energized crowd had trouble settling down. Several audience members continued to make catcalls through an instrumental piece, "Number Three," which prompted one audience member to shout, "Shut the hell up!" - much to the delight and applause of the crowd. Harper, unshaken, went on to leave the audience mesmerized with a solo acoustic version of "Roses From My Friends."
The encore acoustic set ended with Harper joined on stage by opening act and longtime friend Tom Freund in playing "Pleasure and Pain," a song the two recorded together in 1992. Harper emerged for a second encore with the rest of the band to play "She's Only Happy in the Sun" and an upbeat reggae version of Harper's most popular song, "Steal My Kisses," which transitioned into a cover of Toots and the Maytals' "Pressure Drop." The crowd was left with a lot of feel-good energy as the band came together for an impromptu a cappella version of the song's chorus.