Ben Harper at Ellie Caulkins Opera House, 11-08-13 (photos, review)By Kristopher Coe | November 11th, 2013 | 2 comments
Ben Harper isn’t your typical hot-blooded rock icon. He isn’t the hotel-thrashing, drug-binging, megalomaniac type that demands adoration. Harper is instead a rare blend of old-fashioned class and artistic brio. He wears humility like a tattoo and downplays success like it’s just dumb luck.
At the front end of his solo acoustic tour at the exquisite Ellie Caulkins Opera House, Harper sidestepped the spotlight to let his fans feel the love. Playing an assortment of trademark gems and offbeat covers, Harper unwrapped his retrospective set in a way that showcased his virtuosic poise. Jumping from 12-string guitar to weissenborn to ukelele (and even piano) during the setlist, Harper set the tone with “Welcome To The Cruel World” off his 1994 debut. The dreamy slide guitar interwoven with Harper’s fire-roasted vocals sounded like the pearly gates of blues heaven opening. “Diamonds On The Inside” and “Forever” radiated under the acoustic wonder of the venue as if they were written strictly for Ellie herself.
Harper then switched gears and reworked dazzling piano covers of Mazzy Star’s “Fade Into You” and Rihanna’s “Stay” — a tribute to two playing in Denver that same weekend. Both songs were unlikely gifts — even though most of the rowdy crowd just wanted Harper to stick to the goods of his own treasured catalog. “Burn One Down” (which might just be Denver’s unofficial adopted reefer theme song) carried that momentum to an even higher plain as the audience belted out the chorus word-for-word.
During the first part of a double-encore, Harper’s natural ability proved limitless. “Trying Not To Fall In Love With You” brought the crowd to their feet as Harper uncorked an emotive fury and showmanship on the keys that would have made Ray Charles proud. “She’s Only Happy In The Sun” and “Born To Love You” were tender goldmines that underscored his songwriting magic and the interplay of Harper’s vocal range.
For the second encore, the stakes elevated with hymnal renditions of “Walk Away,” “Waiting On An Angel” and the transcendent “Amen Omen.” The latter of which captured the Claremont, Calif.-native in his most natural self: Blessed.
Kris K. Coe is a freelance writer, Denver-native and regular contributor to Reverb.
Lisa Higginbotham is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb.