Ben Harper @ Massey Hall

Ben Harper
Massey Hall
September 28, 2007
Ben Harper lives on the stage.

Putting aside the fact that he gained his loyal fan base on the road, Harper’s music seems to stick out on the stage because, lets face it, fans and critics alike know he puts on a great show – and so does he. Straddling the line between confident and cocky the veteran singer-songwriter strut his stuff all over the stage in Toronto on Friday night.

Settling in comfortably to an elegant venue like Massey Hall does lend a bit of credibility, but Harper brought much of his own class sliding on stage in a three-piece suit and bringing along a set of sparkly chandeliers as a part of his set that looked like they belonged in the venue.

Harper and his band the Innocent Criminals weaved easily through a set that mixed tunes from his ever growing repertoire that spans over a decade. Leading with the spiritually melancholy “Two Hands of A Prayer” and proceeding into the politically charged “People Lead”. Proving himself a master of many areas of the stage Harper’s switched easily from furious slide guitar to delicate piano without skipping a beat. Despite the mix, the show was heavy on tunes from Harper’s latest record Lifeline featuring soulful R&B tunes like “Heart of Matters”, “Needed You Tonight” and his single “In the Colors”.

No matter where Harper and Co. took them, the crowd were along for the ride; roaring at opportune moments, some even rising to their feet throughout the set but knowing when to fall silent as the tunes slowed down and became more introspective. But the audience’s love did not go unrequited as Harper declared his love for the city and his fans there several times throughout the set “It’s so great to be back here,” he mused.

The born showman knew to save the best till last getting the whole crowd dancing in their seats to a cover of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and eliciting an applause usually reserved for calling an act back out for an encore.

However the highlight of the night came from the set’s closing tune “Where Could I Go”. As he reached the second verse of the gospel tune he recorded with the Blind Boys of Alabama he stepped away from the microphone and made his way closer to the crowd onto the very edge of the stage. Putting a single finger in the air he silenced the crowd and continued to sing. Though lacking electronic amplification his voice rang crystal clear throughout the theatre and in its stripped down state his words seemed to permeate the crowd more fully as he asked “Where could I go, but to the Lord?”

If he is a bit cocky, Harper luckily has enough talent and passion to back it, and if he didn’t prove it throughout his set, he certainly did during his four-song encore starting with “Amen Omen” and continuing though a cover of folk legend Bob Dylan’s “Masters of War”, a duet with opener Piers Faccini. He finished the night with “One Road to Freedom”, the never-studio-recorded “Not Fire Not Ice” and a quick wave saying he hoped to see some of the crowd again at his second show, which would surely bring them back for more.

Writer: Michelle Garcia

Photo:Michelle Garcia

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