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Despite having two Grammys under his belt, Ben sounds like he’s saying that nothing he does will ever be enough to satisfy the voracious appetite of that same industry and that he’s tried hard to come to terms with that fact.
In a world where most people are afraid to admit to believing in anything at all, he turned political correctness upside down when he closed the first set with his tune “Where could I go.” This arrangement, created by Ben Harper, Jason Yates and Mark Ford, is more reminiscent of a traditional gospel tune than anything. This was the highlight of the night for me, because he sang his heart out.
The crowd was spellbound when the band stopped playing almost completely and Ben turned this well-known song into an acapella anthem. Singing acapella is one thing, but when Ben stepped away from the microphone, to the very edge of the stage and began to sing up into the empty spaces above the crowd with no amplification at all, the electricity in the room was like ozone in the air during a lightning storm.
Anyone who made noise at this point was unceremoniously shushed by the crowd. When the song finally ended, the roar from the crowd made the silence seem that much more intense.
The whole band was tight. Before then, I had only heard Oliver Charles play drums live on one other occasion. Sitting feet away from his kit, on the stained and scratched oak floor of the Ryman stage, gave me a new appreciation for his skill as a drummer. I then understood why Adam Topol called Oliver the world’s greatest living drummer. That’s a huge statement, and I’m sure that some will disagree, but Oliver’s tight, consistent pocket never fluctuated, and his rhythms were never overly expressed. Oliver Charles is indeed a phenomenal drummer.
Those drum strains were expertly complemented and interwoven with the percussion work of Leon Mobley. Bassist Juan Nelson pulled stately rhythms flawlessly. Jason Yates made the Leslie talk and Michael Ward’s guitar leads were explicit.
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals did their job admirably in Nashville the other night and I feel grateful to have been there. I’ve seen hundreds of shows, hundreds of bands, but on this one night in Nashville, the Innocent Criminals got it right, creating their own legacy, in a house with so many.