“Thank you for the best Friday night I’ve ever had.” —Ben Harper
Just a few chords into the opening song, “Number with No Name”—the first track on White Lies for Dark Times, released last Tuesday—it was clear that the new music Ben Harper is making with his most recent band, Relentless7, is dirtier, heavier, darker (take your pick) than all of his previous music. It’s a startling but, no doubt, welcome change. The new band includes Jason Mozersky on lead guitar, Jesse Ingalls on bass and keys and Jordan Richardson on drums. Harper took care of lead vocals and alternated between the guitar and the lap steel.
When Harper, who sang all night like he’s got fire in his belly, sat down and played that glorious lap steel on songs like the opener, “Shimmer & Shine,” and “Why Must You Always Dress in Black,” the hard-driving music took on a bluesy grittiness that was especially effective at Music Hall of Williamsburg on what seemed like the first pleasant Friday night in far too long. The set was a well-paced 10 songs. The only tune not from the new album was the searing “Better Way,” from Both Sides of the Gun (recorded with the Innocent Criminals).
Following a short break, the band came back for a strong four-song encore. With the help of the enthusiastic audience, “Another Lonely Day,” from one of Harper’s solo albums, turned into a big old sing-along. After “Faithfully Remain,” the band went into a terrific cover of Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure.” Again, the audience participated, this time by clapping and snapping in time. A rollicking “Up to You Now” followed to close out the show. But the four musicians remained onstage, smiling and exulting in the thunderous applause. Then Harper simply said, “Thank you for the best Friday night I’ve ever had” as the band exited the stage. —R. Zizmor