Ben Harper And Relentless7, HMV Forum, London – April 19th 2009
The Innocent Criminals are no more, but Ben Harper lives on with his new band Relentless7, formed last year and with their debut album White Lies For Dark Times inspiring this current tour. The sound is slightly rockier but still essentially underpinned with the folk-blues that Ben’s famous for, and a packed Forum was also treated to plenty of crunching guitar solos, jazzy basslines and Ben’s soulful storytelling a la Springsteen. While Harper is not quite The Boss, he’s certainly a foreman of sorts, kicking off his set with a flurry of gung-ho tracks heavy on the wah-wah-wah guitars…
Because Harper was only playing a single night in London Town, Kentish Town’s forum was top-heavy with fans who’ve been following the career trajectory of one of California’s most laidback sons. Sporting a crisp white shirt and bathed in an orange hue, Harper connected with his audience in the best way he knows – sheer vocal and strumming power. For half the set he stood, singing to the crowd; for the rest he sat, guitar laid flat on his lap, hammering the strings and vocalising his blue collar tracks alongside his gravel-crusted love songs. The packed house whooped accordingly, getting lighters out for classic Another Lonely Day and new track Faithfully Remain, getting blues-up on The Word Suicide and bathing in melancholy on the guitar-grinding Keep It Together (So I Can Fall Apart). Harper’s harder-edged tracks see his vocals veer towards his folk roots and bring to mind Neil Young, Rodriguez and Josh Ritter, while his more laidback songs have more in common with his friend Jack Johnson.
That Harper manages to mix up so many styles but still essentially has a heady mix of songs to make you jump around and songs to make you weep explains his popularity. That, and the fact that the man can surely sing. “I wanna see you naked!” shouted one over-zealous audience member a few songs in, and they weren’t to be denied. But while Harper didn’t strip away his clothes, his musical soul was there for all to see.