Ben Harper and Relentless7, Belly Up, Solana Beach, CA- 12/3
Ben Harper and Relentless7's surprise concert at the Belly Up started out with a scalper-deterring will call only ticket process, as will every show on this tour. The band, which features guitar player and singer, Ben Harper, Jason Mozersky on guitar, Jesse Ingalls on bass, and Jordan Richardson on drums is playing small club shows, the size of which superstar Harper hasn’t played in a very long time.
As the club quickly filled up, Grace Woodroofe, took the stage and appeared to be rather nervous. Her beautifully soft yet sultry Australian accented voice and basic acoustic guitar playing served as nice background music as most of the crowd chatted and eagerly awaited the main act.
When Relentless7 walked out on stage, the aura was decidedly different from the most recent Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals tour, where they dressed in suits and played to a sit down crowd. By contrast, the band members were dressed very casually with Harper in cargo pants and a denim shirt, and the rest of the group in jeans and t-shirts which made one realize this was going to be more of a rock show. This seemed to be confirmed by the songs available from the band’s website: a fantastic cover of Led Zeppelin’s "Good Times, Bad Times," Prince’s "Purple Rain" and an original called "Serve Your Soul," which was almost 10 minutes long with an explosive jam in the middle.
Before the group appeared, the band’s sound tech offered the front row people ear plugs. I’ve never seen anything like that before, but within a minute of the start of the show it was clear that those who accepted were happy that they did. Relentless7 started out the night with an ear piercing loudness and the first few songs were a little bit jarring for much of the crowd, who seemed to be mostly seasoned Harper fans and were not quite sure of what they were getting themselves into. The combination of Harper’s incendiary slide guitar, and Mozersky’s heavy, deep, and bluesy guitar playing was a definite contrast to the general sound and vibe of The Innocent Criminals. This was evident when early on, the Relentless7 performed Harper’s song "Better Way." It sounded harder, faster, and due to the incredibly loud amplification of the guitars it was often difficult to hear his voice (made more challenging because it was obvious that Harper was fighting some kind of cold/flu and his voice was particularly raspy to the point of cracking twice during the prolonged notes).
It was not until 6 songs into the set that the band truly got into a groove. Their rocking original "Keep it Together" was the turning point in this show, where it seems that the old school Harper fans opened their minds and ears while the band seemed to be gelling quite nicely. Richardson made this song truly come alive through his tight rolls and animated personality. The entire venue seemed to be emulating his enormous smile and energetic state of mind while he and Mozersky were feeding off one another to the utter enjoyment of the band members. This energy carried throughout the rest of the night, but was captured best by another original "Boots Like These." During this number, which seemed to be like Harper’s own spin on "These Boots Are Made for Walkin’," Harper jumped and danced all over the stage, even up on the drum platform where he picked up a tambourine and maracas.
After a short encore break, the band came back out and played a soft original to get things started, which was an interesting choice after the heavy, deep, fast pace of the rest of the show. However, Harper and Relentless7 then performed what quickly became a crowd sing-along to Queen and Bowie’s "Under Pressure." This segued into the band’s deep, bluesy, jammy original "Serve Your Soul," which ended the night and featured Harper’s fervent improvisation on the slide guitar. It was a powerful tune however, "Keep it Together," may have been a better choice to end on, as "Serve Your Soul" seemed to leave the crowd longing for a more conclusive ending to the evening.
Relentless7, are a prime example of a deep blues, hard rock band with an occasional softer edge brought on by Ben Harper’s soothing soulful voice. The group will continue to develop as they get more stage time together, and this bodes well for a long lived, high energy act, fueled by Harper’s fame, Mozersky’s incendiary guitar licks, and Richardson’s personality behind the drum kit. If this is the future of Ben Harper, then Relentless 7 will attract a number of long time Harper fans, but will also recruit a fan base who appreciates the heavy, deep bluesy sound that is reminiscent of early Led Zeppelin and the harder songs of The Innocent Criminals.