Mixing funky rock, Cat Stevens-like ballads and earthy soul music, Ben Harper and his trusty Weissenborn guitar make vivid, life-affirming music that takes on added depth when witnessed in concert. At the first of two sold-out gigs at the Palace, Harper and his Innocent Criminals turned the venue into a mellow dance celebration, evoking the memory of Robert Johnson mixed with contemporaries Lenny Kravitz and even Tracy Chapman with his eclectic musical mix, warm vocals and easygoing manner.
Seated throughout the 90-minute show, Harper played a variety of styles on his unique instrument, including some evil slide on “Faded,” the lead track on his recently issued third album, “The Will to Live” (Virgin).
Harper and band shed many of the quieter folk qualities that make his three albums so inviting, instead extending many of the songs with inventive, melodious jams that gave them new character, including one that featured a portion of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf).”
Other highlights included the almost-Grateful Dead-ish flow of “Truth & Consequence,” the politically charged “Excuse Me Mr.” and the new album’s chilling title track, which closed the evening’s regular set.