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An Electric Performance

October 3rd, 2011

Ben Harper – Terminal 5 – October 1, 2011


From the moment he came onstage, Ben Harper connected with the crowd, saluting with hands clasped as if in prayer and thrust upward toward the balconies. This gratitude was infectious and lasted the entire night, as he thanked those gathered time and again, and sang the praises of New York City in between songs, transforming a roomful of fans into lasting converts to the potential glory of Terminal 5. The set ran the gamut, drawing on material from across his catalog, while also offering a wealth of covers. Pretty much every moment was a highlight. Soul was in the house, with the opener, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Rock was in the house, as a fiery “Glory & Consequence” delved into a verse from Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy” before coming back for its conclusion. Gospel was in the house, as a rapt crowd watched Harper step up to the front of the stage in front of the monitors to belt out an a cappella verse during a stirring rendition of “Where Could I Go.”

The crowd sang along to some of the softer songs, like “Suzie Blue” and “Another Lonely Day,” and watched with awe as drummer Jordan Richardson delivered a 10-minute drum solo. The band welcomed opener Grace Woodroofe to the stage for a cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless.” Her guitarist, along with Charlie Sexton, the guitarist from Bob Dylan’s band, remained onstage to add layers to the Led Zeppelin classic “No Quarter.” The crowd was still insatiable. “Every song I sing is ‘Sexual Healing,’’’ joked Harper after one shouted request. All the while he lavishly praised New York City and its inhabitants. “The world is nothing without a city like this,” he said early in the set. “You’re all world travelers—look at you! Every block is a page. Every borough is a chapter.”

Later Harper related a string of events he’d been a part of in New York City over the years, saying “I’ve had one indelible memory in this city pretty much every year of my life.” He listed off some of the artists he’d had the pleasure of playing with here over the years, starting back in 1994: Gil Scot-Heron, P.J. Harvey, the Fugees, Phillip Glass, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. There was the show at the Apollo with the Blind Boys of Alabama, playing to a rain-soaked crowd in Central Park in 2007, performing for Barack Obama in 2008 at the Hammerstein Ballroom. “Which brings me to tonight, Terminal 5,” he concluded. “Thank you, New York City. Thank you!” —JC McIlwaine

Photos courtesy of JC McIlwaine | www.jcmcilwaine.com