Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite, Davies Symphony Hall, San Francisco, CA- 11/14
Photo by Marc Millman
Full Disclosure. This was my first Ben Harper concert. And while I have always enjoyed his songs and appreciated his musicianship, I was unprepared for the scene at Davies Symphony Hall. The setting was magnificent. Davies is a gem of a theatre in the heart of San Francisco—elegant with perfect sound. And the audience was rapt.
The show was billed as an acoustic evening. Ben walked onto the sparse stage and sat down with a banjo. But this was no bluegrass show. Instead he banged out a Middle Eastern drone that put the crowd into a hypnotic state that would hold throughout the night. From there he got into his classics, starting with “The Long Road Home” and “Welcome to the Cruel World”. He moved from lap slide to national steel to the straight up electric guitar and then to piano, demonstrating his most excellent musical chops, his fine songwriting, and his sweet, sweet voice. Perhaps spurred on by shouts of “You are our church Ben” and “Tell us the truth”, Ben went into one of several lectures on politics and why he feels so comfortable in San Francisco. Clearly he is deeply connected to his audience. However, I enjoyed the show much more when the music was flowing and the talk kept to a minimum.
After a great set that ended with “Burn One Down,” Ben came out with Charlie Musselwhite, the legendary blues harp player. They jammed through five songs. There were a few choppy moments when the two did not feel completely in synch but they hit their stride with a blistering version of “Trust You to Dig My Grave.” There was much love on the stage between the elder statesman of the blues and the young pop rock icon. And the audience basked in its glow.
Coming back for a second encore set, Ben finished off the job he started. He played another nine songs, including a perfect rendition of the Leonard Cohen classic, Hallelujah. Ben ended with “Suzie Blue” followed by a predictably rousing standing ovation from an audience that was more than satisfied.
It was a great show, a full evening of beautifully crafted songs performed in the perfect venue to showcase Ben’s singing and playing—every note crystal clear. But as I left the theatre I couldn’t help thinking how great it would be to see the raucous rocking electric version of this super sweet acoustic show.