Concert review: Ben Harper, Aotea Centre

By Scott Kara

6 comments
Ben Harper. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ben Harper. Photo / Dean Purcell

When an artist hits the road on a solo acoustic tour it sometimes means they're saving money by not having a band in tow. Not so for Kiwi favourite and regular visitor Ben Harper. Because with 14 guitars - of various shapes and sizes - lined up across the stage, some vibes (on which he plays a magical version of Marvin Gaye's Trouble Man), and a lovely rickety old piano, then that's still a fair bit of freight to check in at the airport.

And considering some of the instruments - like the slide-guitar-cum-lute that he plays a hallucinatory instrumental on at the start of his final encore - look like museum pieces, then they deserve a first class seat all to themselves.

Then there's the fact the singer-songwriter plays for almost three and a half hours, ending just before midnight, meaning it sure is value for money.

The set of around 30 songs takes in his entire career, from the plaintive Welcome to the Cruel World, the title track from his 1994 debut, through to his best loved songs including a wheezing and passionate Excuse Me Mr.

There are more straight-forward versions of Burn One Down and Steal My Kisses, and early on he plays a thrumming and spell-binding instrumental on his Weissenborn Hawaiian lap steel guitar.

"It's fretless. You gotta know your notes. You gotta know your marks," he says switching into tutorial mode.

And there are a handful of covers, including a fittingly robust rendition of Springsteen's Atlantic City, an impromptu reworking of Sittin' On the Dock of the Bay, which he figures out on the spot and sings after a crew member prints out the lyrics, and while vocally Harper's no Marvin Gaye, his poised work on vibes for Trouble Man really is one of the highlights of the night.

Harper has a special place in many Kiwi hearts, as these two sold-out Auckland shows and his two Wellington concerts are testament to. And further proof comes when Harper asks the audience if anyone is in love (before playing Loving You Is My Masterpiece), to which an excited chap stands up, raises his two plastic cups of beer aloft, and pleads, "I love you, Ben."

This marathon show is one for devout fans like that, because only the (many) dedicated followers stay to the bitter end with increasing numbers leaving around the 11.30pm mark. Not that Harper cares, even telling those who need to get home to the babysitter that it's okay to leave. "If you have to go, go," he grins.

But as he resolves, when you get to a certain stage in your career and have hundreds of songs to choose from, then the only thing to do is play them.

"So thank you for your patience and perseverence," he says, signing off, as the crowd continues to demand more.

- NZ Herald

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