Review: Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals bring intense musicianship to Jannus Live in St. Petersburg
He’s the man in the hat, the man with countless guitars. He’s an outspoken worker for social justice and a chameleon who moves between reggae, hard rock, funk and gospel.
He’s Ben Harper, and he brought his band the Innocent Criminals to Jannus Live on Tuesday.
For two hours, he and his bandmates, who reunited last year with the album Call It What It Is, had fans holding a continuous sing-along of praise. It didn’t stop, even when Harper himself did during an instrumental on one of his lap guitars midway through. As he played Strut, his slippery fingers got the best of him (that’s Florida humidity, Ben; not your fault) He suddenly looked up, perhaps cursed and began again.
The show, packed with about 20 songs, included mostly work with the Innocent Criminals, ranging from the new Finding Our Way and How Dark is Gone to classics Diamonds on the Inside, Steal My Kisses, Burn to Shine and Having Wings. Harper also played some solo work, like Forever and Cruel World.
One song was conspicuously missing from Harper’s performance: The title track of Call It What It Is, a battle cry of sorts concerning racial profiling in America. But the intensity was still there.
A peak moment came during Keep it Together. With Harper, on lap slide and Jason Mozersky on lead, they blistered their way through a five-minute electric jam, followed by Harper wailing the last words of the song: “Please keep it together, so that I can fall apart.’’
From the looks of his performance in St. Petersburg, not only is Harper not falling apart, but with the help of his old friends — Mozersky, Jason Yates on organ, Juan Nelson on bass, Oliver Charles on drums and Leon Mobley on percussion — he’s more relevant than ever.
-- Piper Castillo