Ben Harper and Relentless7

Friday night may have been the greatest concert of my life. It's no secret that I am a huge Ben Harper fan. First "discovering" him in spring 2000 thanks to a fraternity brother (forever thankful Pat Fay!), I saw him at the University of Illinois play a small intimate show. The small concert hall (Foellinger Auditorium) held about 1,500 people, and it was a realy nice quaint venue that matched Ben's softer songs and dulcet voice. It didn't play as well to his rock side, but at that time, his albums were more diverse.

Since then, I've seen him in four other venues, ranging from larger theaters (Ball St., the Murat) to outside at White River. As his popularity has grown, so have the venues he's played. Until Friday.

First, I was incredibly disappointed that Ben wasn't coming to Indy on this tour. The only options nearby were Detroit and Chicago. Fortunately, work meetings and a visit to see Lynne's family made the Detroit show look likely, but getting tickets was an entirely new challenge. Tickets sold out quickly, and the secondary market was charging some steep prices. I was pretty surprised by this until I learned it was because Ben's favorite Detroit venue (and one of his favorite in the world), St. Andrews Hall, is a small little dive that could hardly support 800 standing room only fans. For me, that was a clincher. The chance to see Ben rock out at such a small show was exciting.

The show didn't disappoint at all. The opening act, The Henry Clay People, were actually a really great live act, playing some fun rootsy rock, and developing a great rapport with the audience. We were about five people deep from the stage, and by the end of the opening set, we knew that it was going to be a night of sweat, ringing ears, and a unique concert experience

Relentless7, Ben's new band after a successful decade with the Innocent Criminals, is one thing - lyric-fueled rock. While I still love Ben's eclectic mix of style and tempo seen on previous albums, there was just something refreshing and tons of fun with his new focus. His lyrics are still as powerful as ever, and the rock riffs are excellent. It also provided for a show with more energy than I've ever seen out of Ben and his band (and the crowd). By the second set the foursome was already dripping in sweat (as was the audience as the venue was HOT).

Highlights from the night include Ben performing Better Way (a song he did with the ICs), some amazing solos during the new R7 songs, Ben cluimbing the speaker tower to say hi to the people standing in the narrow balcony, a great cover of Under Pressure, Ben's candor with the audience, and Ben coming out into the crowd to sing with his people.

Our ears were ringing after the show, and despite being hot, exhausted, and up way past our normal bedtime with Eliza (who was getting some good grandparent time in), I didn't want it to end. I'm very excited about the future of Ben Harper and Relentless7, and I'd drive to Detroit again for sure to see such a rocking and intimate show.

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