Review: Ben Harper at the Hollywood Bowl

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It was another wonderful Sunday night with KCRW’s World Music Festival at the Hollywood Bowl, featuring Grammy-winning singer Ben Harper, Fitz and the Tantrums, and Vieux Farka Toure.

The evening show started with the strong Afrobeat rhythms of Vieux Farka Toure.  Son of Ali Farka Toure, his music immediately grabbed the attention of the audience.  Accompanied by his three-piece band on stage he sang beautiful songs from his own collection.  He has recently worked on a new collaborative effort with Israeli singer Idan Raichel entitled The Toure-Raichel Collective: The Tel Aviv Sessions.

KCRW’s own Garth Trinidad hosted the event, breaking down the talent for tonight’s spectacular show.  For the second act, Garth introduced Los Angeles-based indie band, Fitz and the Tantrums.  From behind the stage wall, out comes lead singer Michael Fitzpatrick wearing a bright red suit, accompanied by co-lead vocalist Noelle Scaggs.  They were totally engaging during a high energy set and, as the sun went down, they closed with the song “Money Grabber”.

As darkness crept in, the stage rotated to the classic Ben Harper set up.  The lights dimmed and Ben walked out sitting solo on a chair and started to play “Paris Sunrise #7” with his brown teardrop lap guitar.  The crowd was mesmerized, in absolute awe with such gifted musicianship.

Continuing solo, he then followed with the song “Another Lonely Day”.  Slowly the band walked on to perform “Morning Yearning”,  “Suzie Blue”, and “Diamonds on the Inside”.  Natalie Maines from the Dixie Chicks then joined Harper on stage for a version of Pink Floyd’s “Mother”.  Ben was also joined by Rickie Lee Jones to perform a duet together.  The sound of both of their voices together is pure harmony.

As the night went on,  Ben dedicated the next song, “Ground on Down”, to the skate crew Bones Brigade and proceeded to shout out their names to the audience.

To play percussion on the song, he brought a original Innocent Criminal member, Leon Mobley.  At this point I was floored.  Leon has also worked with Babatunde Olatunji and is now on tour with Damien Marley.  With a smile on his face that stretches from one end of the stage to the other, Leon added a magical moment to this amazing song.

After the song, Leon’s embrace with Ben was filled with such gratitude and, to end the night, Ben brought Leon out to play what might be his best known song, “Burn One Down”.  What happened then, take a guess…

The most amazing moment came at the end of the show in which Ben stood in the front of the stage asking the audience for complete silence as he sang “Where Could I Go” a capella. No microphone, totally acoustic, letting his voice carry throughout the Bowl.

Shows like these are to be remembered and I’m glad that KCRW helped bring this to life.

— Jason Kramer