I first heard Ben Harper in 1995 when my friend Kim made me a copy of Welcome to the Cruel World on a tape. That was all I needed. I was sold. I wore that tape out. And by 1999, when I began my freshmen year of college, a Ben Harper patch adorned my backpack—the lone signifier that distinguished my Jansport from the next.
In 1999, I saw Ben—with those spectacular Innocent Criminals—at The Riviera Theatre for two sold-out shows. And last week I returned to The Riv to photograph Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals. I know—full circle, right?
The knot of anticipation in my stomach vanished the minute the band walked on to the stage. Perhaps a touch more weathered since I saw them last, they nevertheless sounded as good as ever, which is no surprise given their layers of talent.
After I photographed the first three songs, I found a spot and just took in the remainder of the show. It was everything that I could’ve asked for: Ben’s unmistakable voice, the arcs of energy, the guitar solos, the acoustic set, Juan manhandling his bass, Leon’s beats, the seamless shifts in genre from song to song. I would’ve loved to hear some deeper cuts but I guess that’s the problem when you have thirteen studio albums—everyone wants to hear different tracks.