Columbus, OH, Lifestyles Community Pavilion, August 30, 2006

 

Written and photos by: Jason Perlman

 

When Ben Harper said, "Change is a big ass tree and I am a small axe," he was referring to his ability to use his music to bring about change in the political spectrum of America. Harper, since the early years, has used his music to try and spark debate but also used his music to give like-minded listeners a place to feel comfortable.

 

When Harper began, it was again uncommon for an artist to speak about issues Harper commonly addressed. It was even more rare for a young musical performer to be left of center politically overtly in a time where getting rich at whatever cost was becoming the trend. But over the years, Harper has influenced music in a way that allowed popular music to have a message, but as a small axe, Harper has proven that people singing words do not make a movement.

 

Unlike some artists with a political agenda, Harper recognizes the shortcomings of music in change, and although he realizes his words are not changing the world, they do provide comfort. It was proven at Lifestyles Community Pavilion in Columbus, Harper's only Ohio stop, as thousands sang, dances and felt Harper's lyrics and message, yet just minutes after the show, litter and arguments spewed the venue just as it would any other concert.

 

Aside from the lack of environmental control of the drinking crown, Harper put together a surprising low-key set list, which was kicked off with Take My Hand, originally performed with the Blind Boys of Alabama, of which Harper is an honorary member.

With near perfect clarity and definite raw emotion, Harper sang his way through that with as much feeling and intensity as possible. His words strike through the heart like an arrow shot from cupid's bow, and when his band plays behind him, there seems to be nothing else to focus on but the stage and the reverberations. Harper's set list contained many songs from his new double-album, Both Sides of the Gun, including the title song, which was sung early in the set. The stage show was enough to give the ambience of being at a rock and roll show without too much to overpower the stage. The video monitors displayed numerous images during Faded, and then switched to two firearms forming an X for Both Sides of the Gun.

 

Throughout the set, it seemed the crowd wanted something to dance to, and it got its wish as the band broke into Steal My Kisses, but it wasn't until the 5-song Encore II that the remaining fans really let loose. As the second encore began with a cover of Neil Young's Heart of Gold, it was quickly followed up with Marvin Gaye's Sexual Healing and Let's Get It On. As he does with most shows, Harper ended with night with Better Way, which once again is a powerful song about the need for change in this country.

In 2004, Harper toured across America with other acts touting the election of John Kerry and the lack of concern to average people from the George Bush administration. Rather than wallow in the Kerry defeat, Harper plowed forward and in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Harper wrote several songs for Both Sided of the Gun, two of which were played in Columbus, Black Rain and Please Don't Talk About Murder While I Am Eating. Harper and the Innocent Criminals took the stage like the owned it, yet were open enough to allow the crowd to share the energy and experience. This was one of the must-see shows of the year, yet there was still plenty of room in the lawn. It seems in Columbus that the great shows are somewhat well attended; yet the more radio-friendly bands are mass attended. Columbus, as a music market, seems to be trend followers, but as Harper burned the stage up in Columbus, there were several thousand who went past the radio dial to find quality music with a positive message, so kudos to those dancing the night away.

Ben Harper
Ben Harper
Ben Harper
Ben Harper
Ben Harper
Ben Harper