Most of you already know who you are and where you stand when it comes to Ben Harper, so if you don't like him, I'm probably not going to change your mind here, so go ahead and flip the page. Do it -- I won't be offended.
The reason I can't convince you is for this one reason: I'm not really sure why I like Ben Harper.
On paper, Harper is lumped into every musical category that I usually prefer to make gagging noises at. He books tours (though unsuccessful as far as this year's Zooma Tour went) with hippies like Trey Anastasio of Phish. He extends his concise guitar solos into unnecessarily long jam sessions. And you can usually find his records in the collections of a certain kinds of people -- particularly the type of people who refer to Dave Matthews Band as just "Dave," or who prefer "F--in' Rusted!" over the band's actual name, Rusted Root.
And even with all of that stacked against him -- his annoying co-performers, annoying audiences and somewhat annoying stage antics -- I just can't bring myself to get rid of my one Ben Harper album. In fact, every time I do listen to it, I find I like it more and more. Each track has sweetened, each lyric has morphed and each song gives me a fresh feeling with every year it ages. Among my indie, punk and electronic-heavy shelves, Harper's The Will to Live is the one constant.
I first stumbled across Harper back in '97 when the song "Faded" was blaring across the KNRK airwaves in Portland. With alt-rock dripping from every corner of town, hearing a prog-inspired sound come across the dial was refreshing, even though the song was totally deceiving to Harper's larger repertoire. Yes, he jams. He even has songs about weed.
But Harper takes a different look at music than the rest of those hippie schlubs. He has something more to say than everyone-hold-hands-and-sing-kumbaya. Harper chastises politics, singing to those who are aware of the happenings of the world beyond the summer of '69. He has a shameless devotion to his fans -- playing more than 150 shows per year and recording all of them for bootleg junkies. And he's musically competent, doing the guy-and-guitar thing well, but showing his diversity by collaborating with acts that he respects. Harper joined forces with the legendary Blind Boys of Alabama this year, producing the Grammy-winning album, There Will Be a Light.
Harper invades the Big Easy this Sunday as a thank-you to his fans and as an apology to those who were broken up over the cancelled Zooma Tour. He'll be touring smaller clubs across the country to make up for the cancellation -- and for your money, you're way better off hearing Harper like this. Pure, intimate and up-close with Harper, his band, his guitar and shocking talent -- without any of the hippie BS that would have come along with Anastasio. - Leah Sottile
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals perform with Tom Freund on Sunday, June 10, at 8 pm, at the Big Easy. Tickets: $35. Call 325-SEAT.