TVD Live Shots:
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals
at the Fillmore, 3/28

The first time I saw Ben Harper live was in 1998 at the now defunct H.O.R.D.E. festival. Summer festivals were arguably at their peak, and  H.O.R.D.E. pulled together all of the top “alternative jam bands” of the time. Founded by Blues Traveler and led by festival staple The Black Crowes, it was sort of like Lollapalooza for the folks who loved beads and hacky sacks (amongst other things).

Ben Harper was three albums into his career and really making a name for himself as one of the best live shows on the circuit. I remember being backstage at one of the shows as I worked for Sony Music at the time. They had a sort of self-serve ice cream stand set up, and there was a guy back there digging out a couple of scoops. He then looks at me and asks if I wanted some ice cream. I said, “Holy shit—you’re Ben Harper,” and gladly accepted his offer.

I was a casual fan of Ben Harper and had his first couple of records and I recognized him instantly. I chatted with him for a few minutes as we ate the frozen treat on what was a blistering hot St. Louis afternoon. We had a conversation about the tour and his set list that day and after a few minutes Ben said he had to run. I thought to myself, Ben Harper just served me ice cream and then hung out to chat, how fucking cool is that?

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It just goes to show how sometimes the best musicians on the planet don’t let success go to their head. That memory has stuck with me to this day. It was the first time I had ever seen Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals live, and what a cool way to set up my first time witnessing the genius of Ben Harper’s now legendary live show.

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Fast forward to last weekend here in San Francisco and more than fifteen years later, Ben Harper has reunited with his Innocent Criminals. I was there to witness the final of four sold out performances at the Fillmore Auditorium. The setlist that night was nothing short of spectacular. Opening with the political frustration fueled classic “Better Way,” then launching into the funky Sly and the Family Stone inspired “Brown Eyed Blues,” night four was turning out to be the best choice of nights to attend.

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Then Harper brought out the big guns by launching into two songs from arguably his best record, Fight for Your Mind. The reggae infused “Excuse Me Mr.” and the slide guitar powered “Ground on Down” just about tore the roof off the joint. Ben was on fire and ready to prove to the world that he and his Innocent Criminals were back with a vengeance.

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The rest of the show was a tour de force of Harper’s impressive catalog that was topped off with two epic encore performances. He didn’t want to leave the stage and the audience certainly didn’t want to go home. I got some of the most incredible shots of my rock ‘n’ roll photography career which I’ll let tell the rest of this story.

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On top of all this, Harper gave away free downloads of each performance for a period of 24 hours after each show. If you were lucky enough to get one or all of them, then you have captured lightning in a bottle. For the rest of you, get a ticket to Outside Lands and witness it for yourself on August 8.

Bottom line: Ben Harper is back and better than ever. I would even go so far as to say he’s at his absolute peak. Don’t miss this one folks. Check out hi-res photos in the gallery here.

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