Ben Harper Walt Disney Concert Hall 11/18/13
"I've been making music for 20 years," singer/songwriter Ben Harper told the somewhat raucous crowd at the Disney. "What that means is that all of the shitheads are gone and we're left with you. It's 2,500 of your closest friends."
Harper was right. Playing a mostly solo acoustic set that spanned nearly three-hours, he wrapped up a brief two week run that began in his nearby in his hometown of Claremont. Playing the Disney appeared to have special meaning to Harper, who took multiple pauses over the course of the night to take in the modern marvel of the Los Angeles scene. Dressed to the nines, which in this case meant a white button shirt tucked into black pants, Harper rose to excellence that comes with playing in a venue as distinguished as the Disney.
For years, Harper toiled as he opened for bands like Pearl Jam, Dave Matthews Band and Taj Mahal. Yet his strong solo material allowed him to piggyback on those bands and gain a core audience of his own.
Instead of being uptight, Harper was the opposite. He constantly cracked jokes, like how after 20 years he finally earned his "black card," and quipped about the semi-late arriving crowd.
"I tried to make it somewhere in L.A. by 7:30 on a Monday once," the singer said. "And it was ugly."
Throughout the night, he mixed in stories behind the meaning of some his seminal songs. He told the crowd that "Welcome to the Cruel World" was written on a porch in Echo Park, and even disclosed that in order to make a gig, and thus impress, at the Mint, he got into a minor hit and run accident. Though the statute of limitations is long expired on that accident, what we did get was a story how when he arrived at the venue, he saw Mazzy Star on-stage and played a delicate version of the singer's "Fade Into You." He also talked about swapping instruments with the recently deceased Lou Reed, a moment that was clearly bittersweet for the singer.
Two special guests joined Harper: iconic bluesman Charlie Musselwhite and his mother, Ellen. The 44-year-old has spent a good chunk of the past year collaborating with the blues icon, and after a few songs, he told the crowd they have a second album in the works that should be coming soon.
After introducing and playing a song with his mother, who still runs the Folk Music Center in Claremont, Harper let the crowd in on another tidbit: he and his mother will be releasing their own collaborative effort around Mother's Day titled Childhood Home.
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The night wouldn't have been complete without a few of Harper's standards. Though some moments were a bit static at times, the crowd's energy lifted the singer, who said that the crowd wouldn't act this way around Dudamel. Between the sing-along "Burn One Down," tender "Steal My Kisses" and the Leonard Cohen's standard "Hallelujah," fans got all they could expect from a set that spanned the singer/songwriter's entire career.
By the end of the set, Harper wasn't prepared to leave the stage. Lamenting how you work hard to get somewhere, and that somewhere was the particular moment you're in right now, the singer soaked in every second he was on the Disney stage before giving in and playing one song before curfew. On a night where nerves could have won out, Ben Harper struck the right chord with the audience, proving that his extensive catalog did in fact weed out the shitheads and left him with a pretty strong core of fans he could truly call his own.
The Crowd: If this were the LA Phil, 90 percent of these people would have been tossed. Random Notebook Dump: To the people making out the entire time in front of me, I know Ben Harper is for lovers, but not for baby making.