The recent Tennessee Theatre show featuring Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals with opener Christopher Paul Stelling sold out the venue. Most of the crowd had been seated when Mr. Stelling made his entrance in a difficult slot. Sometimes a crowd feels so set for the main act that not much is likely to catch their attention before that act and that is how this night felt to me.
Mr. Stelling proved himself to be an excellent acoustic guitar player – as fast as any I remember seeing live – and he did garner an audience reaction when he played a large portion of a difficult song behind his back. From the little I could catch, I got the feeling that his lyrics may be worth hearing, but I couldn’t hear or understand his spoken or sung words most of the night. He seemed to drift away from the mic just about the time I was catching something.
Ben Harper came out onto the stage in a talkative mood, expounding at some length on the fact that his Martin guitar is American-made. I may have missed the first sentence or two, but it seemed an odd introduction and I’m not sure most people knew what he was talking about.
The band launched immediately into the show, playing a wide-range of crowd favorites and deeper cuts, older and more recent material. This is one band that makes a major contribution to the front-man. This particular alignment, which he has used sporadically through his career, seems to inspire him and make the concerts sparkle just a bit more.
Visually, the show was attractive and exciting. The lights and back-drop were generally good, though, as a photographer – or even a concert-goer, white LED backlighting aimed directly at the audience is a bit frustrating. A number of my photographs couldn’t be rescued because of the white light pointed at me and I found myself dodging about trying to place a band member’s body or Ben’s directly between me and the light to get a shot.
Constantly on the move, Ben played acoustic guitar, electric guitar and slide guitar on a stand, sometimes in front of him and sometimes beside him. The constant flurry of re-alignment between each song kept the show from settling into a rut, but it also seemed a bit too busy at times.
He talked throughout the show and his train of thought wasn’t always easy for me to hop aboard. My friend leaned over at one point and said, “I feel like I’m in church.” And he did some preaching, though not necessarily of a religious sort, though there did seem to be some vague religious references. Mostly it was the theology of Ben which, if you’ve listened to his music, would be pretty easy to predict: love everybody and we’ll be alright.
The live versions of the songs were pitch-perfect with the band taking some liberties, but sounding remarkably like the records. The crowd took to their feet early and stayed that way with the concert building nicely throughout. Both audience and artist remained engaged through the final note and it was a fine evening for everyone involved. Real music presented with skill and joy. Not much can improve on that formula.
As usual, I’ll post the rest of the photographs on the Inside of Knoxville Facebook page sometime in the next couple of days. Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a video which will give you an idea of what you missed. Enjoy.