Monday, November 12, 2012

An Acoustic Evening with Ben Harper at the Opera house

Decided to write a review of Ben Harper's recent performance at the Opera House in Sydney. In part because I was so affected by the experience I feel compelled to document it in some way, in part because it's a night I am going to remember for a very long time - and I hope this will help keep the memories fresh.  

As already alluded to, from my perspective Ben's show was absolutely incredible. Rife with humour (a lot of self-deprecation!), amazing music, audience interaction, such an expressive range of voice - and so soothing it could probably cure my life long insomnia. And I can't leave out charisma, sensuality, some serious name dropping (hehe), and quick wit (by the audience too!).  He mixed in the old, the new, audience requests (even at the house!!), ( some nirvana!), and talent and creativity only available in BH style.

As soon as you stepped into the house - you knew you were in for a true experience when you looked on stage and saw an amazing display of instruments. The audience was in uproar when Ben surfaced onstage and a couple not far to the right of me announced they were just engaged. Ben set the tone for the night:

BH: Holy Smokes! That's awesome. But wait - don't tell me you're going to upstage me at the Opera House!  Pullin' the engagement trick! So did she say yes?
EC: I said only if you're not interested Ben!

Ben kicked off with some Amazing slide (i believe on the Weissenborn), but he  later dedicated Drugs Don't Work to the happy couple :). After (from memory) Diamonds on the Inside and Blessed To Be a Witness on the yuke and standard steel string (not sure which make it was), Ben moved onto an amazing performance on the piano. Bruce Springsteen in the photograph on top of the piano. Apparently one of Ben's most memorable commendations was when Bruce's mom "approved" of his cover of one of Bruce's songs. "She came up to me after the show.. let's just say she liked it."

Back on guitar, Ben  started to play 'With my own two hands' - but for some reason the audience didn't go off like you'd expect.  He stops playing and says he needs to tune the guitar - but I think he really wanted to rightly draw more attention to the song. He tells this funny story:

"BH: So when my son was in Kindy, I used to walk him to school, 'cause that's what you do with your kids right? So I rock up and this bully of a kid looks at me and says:"

Bully Kid: Man - what are you doing here? 
BH: Well I'm Ellery's dad I'm dropping him off at school
BK: But don't you have a job to go to?
BH: [oh man!] A job - well - I play guitar...
BK: Yeah - I play guitar too. I said do you have a job?

"So there it started.  I develop this sort of fear of this 5 year old bully at my kid's school. Every time i go there I'm kind of avoiding him.  One day it's one of these "hands on" days.. you know.. that's what they want.. everyone involved so I go along.. with these snotty kids.. You know I'm no germ phobe but I'm quite certain I got sneezed on and snot rubbed on me on the way to a table with my son.  Next thing you know - here's bully boy.. he plops himself right next to me. [At this point Ben's literally acting all this out on stage]. I mean like if I'm sitting here. This kid's - like 'HERE' (right in his face)."

BK: So I heard you play guitar on the radio
BH: [Interesting] Oh really? What'd you hear me play?
BK: You know - that one. . the one with the hands
BH: [Very interesting.. ol' bully has a change in tone]. Yeah i know the one.
BK: Yeah and you were with Curious George! Ol' George - What's he like?
BH: [Seriously?? Now who doesn't have a job Mr. I play guitar. I know Curious George!!!! Boo ya!!]

Ben kicked into My own two hands and this time the audience gave it the appreciation it deserves!  Other songs somewhere in the lineup were Another Lonely Day, Blessed to Be  A Witness, Excuse Me Mister, Forever, Morning Yearning, Pleasure and Pain, Power of the Gospel, Walk away. And of course the frequently requested Sexual Healing (wow.. he definitely still has it!!) and Steal My Kisses from you. 

Ben with the family music store and museum emblems in the background.

Ben on the Bells. Magic.

Ben talked about politics briefly, and it transitioned into this funny dialogue:

BH: it's difficult, you know. the fact is there are evil people out there. what do we do? i don't know man.. what do we do with these evil people?
Audience:  'Cook em, Ben!!'
BH: BWAAHhhhhhh! I love it. That's the ozzie solution - cook em.    
Chuck em on the barbie mate! 
Passionately belting it out in BH style.. 

Ben told a funny story about Heath Ledger - apparently Heath had a grand piano unknowingly delivered to Harper's house as a gift! He paid respects to Heath, speaking very highly of him, and acknowledged their close friendship and creative undertakings  - noting that he thought of Heath as he played in Australia and moved on to play a difficult song. Seriously.. is that not one of the most sensual and Amazing videos you have ever seen? The only other video from recollection that remotely has this sensual flair is Franti's Love me Unique, although Ledger/Harper's work is much more subtle and stylistic. Back to BH.. Apparently each morning he plays on this piano to start the day; pretty amazing vision. I can only imagine what other phenomenal projects they would have created together.

 Back to slide for Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley's cover of Hallelujah...

BH: 'Man i know this is a school night and all.. you guys have to work tomorrow but i'm havin' so much fun. I hope you're having as much fun as i am!' [Audience - awww yeah!!]
And then a little later..
BH:  Holy Smokes! Oh my god - I can't believe you guys are all still here! This is incredible. 
Audience: It's ok Ben.. we're ozzies we love to chuck a sickie!!

Ben chucks aside all the mics and picks up the yukulele, belts out... [can't remember the closing song! ugh.. caught up in the moment :)]

Ben sitting 'amongst the people' after the show. Legend.

Ben played from about 8:30 until nearly midnight - superstar!! Other than Manu Chao - who can last that long!?! I don't think anyone wanted to leave - he nor the audience. 

I wanted to yell out - 'Don't give up on me now!'. But I couldn't - as I knew I'd probably make this amazing man pick up his guitar again and belt out perhaps my favourite BH song at midnight.. and that would be just asking too much. Instead i yelled out 'respect' as it's the only adjective that remotely epitomized what we all upheld for him. This probably all sounds a bit dramatic - I am Still on a natural high from the experience - but you know what - maybe it really was this good. :) Every once in a while you have an experience that really affects you... an acoustic evening with Ben Harper at the Opera House was most certainly one of those nights.

No comments: