Review: Ben Harper is still very much on form, making long-awaited Adelaide return with The Innocent Criminals

The last time I saw Ben Harper, he was performing with Relentless7, supporting Pearl Jam at the Adelaide Oval. That was around seven years ago. This week, I was able to see Harper finally make his return to South Australia and to make it even more special, he was in town with The Innocent Criminals. Theirs were albums I remember growing up on; notably, 1999’s Burn To Shine was a staple in my Dad’s CD collection.

The band’s Adelaide show came through the Theatre at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre on Monday night, supported by the Pierce Brothers, who have made 2016 their damn own. Arriving just at the brothers were really hitting their stride, the theatre was feeding off their energy ravenously – grins were spread broadly across faces, while bodies danced to the didgeridoo and furious acoustic guitar sounds being doled out from onstage. The opportunity the Pierce Brothers were granted when it came to touring with an artist like Harper clearly wasn’t lost on them, as they gushed over the headliner at a few points during the show – this was a pinch yourself moment for the guys on stage as much as it was for the fans on ground.

Before long, the stage had been reset – the spotlight on the lone chair behind a microphone, centre stage, was enough to excite. As the band emerged, the applause was immense, particularly as Harper himself took a set and had one of his classic lap steel guitars handed to him. There wasn’t any messing around, here. Kicking straight in, fans were treated to a set list visiting the Innocent Criminals’ extensive catalogue, including cuts from 2016 record, Call It What It Is.

The album’s title track in particular rang out strongly. “They shot him in the back, now it’s a crime to be black…”, Harper sings, with his trademark drawl oozing emotion out over the theatre. “Call it what it is: murder.” It was a moment that grounded the show in realness and the fact it was brought out so early in the setlist made for a memorable moment of the show.

It wasn’t all about seriousness though, as Harper bantered with the crowd and had fun with the band as they highlighted their own individual musical skill. Fans got the favourites in “Diamonds on the Inside”, “Steal My Kisses” and “Fight For Your Mind”, while some gems also crept their way in. This wasn’t a show lacking in quality and if there was any doubt that time hasn’t treated the band well, well, they were certainly squashed.

Hopefully it won’t be another seven years before we see Harper back on Australian shores but for this music fan who’d waited a lot longer to see him with The Innocent Criminals (like many out this way, undoubtedly), the Americans made sure that the wait was well worth it.

The reviewer attended the show on November 28th.