Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals brought the sounds of late ’90s and early ’00s college radio back with a vengeance on September 4 at Malkin Bowl. Describing their music as such doesn’t sound like the highest praise that could be given to this multi-talented artist, but it fits with the vibe of the concert perfectly. While the majority of the crowd was the right age to have gone through college listening to Ben Harper, there was still a youthful feel in the air that was underscored by the equally youthful music being played on stage.
Harper opened his set with “People Lead,” and it was a good transition from the folksier musical stylings of Benjy Ferree, the opening act. Harper followed immediately with a song that should be familiar to most, “Diamonds on the Inside.” It was non-stop music until he took a short break to explain the story behind the next song that he was to perform, “Don’t Take That Attitude to Your Grave/Concrete Jungle,” and to thank members of his family and the families of the members of the Innocent Criminals for being present at the show.
This dedication to performing was a refreshing change from some artists who choose to spend a significant amount of time talking about anything that seems to come to their minds.
But it was not more than just the dedication to the music that made this an interesting concert. It was also the interaction that Harper had with the audience when he did choose to speak — these interactions were very organic in nature, and gave the concert a certain feeling of intimacy. Whether it was listening to a song request from a group of concertgoers or ad libbing a chorus with a few chords based on a comment from someone in the crowd, these interactions added to the feel of the show being inspired by the college music scene of the late ’90s.
The only criticism that could be made about this concert was the ballad-heavy encore. Yet by performing three ballads in a row acoustically, Harper was able to keep the audience engaged with his performance. The Innocent Criminals returned to the stage to bring back the pre-encore energy for the finale of the show.
Overall, this was one of the best concerts that I have attended, and I would highly recommend that everyone should see a Ben Harper show. The focus on the music was refreshing, and the vibe that his music gives off is perfectly suited to summer nights in Vancouver, indoors or out.