Michael Fowler Centre, Friday and Saturday
Reviewed by Simon Sweetman
The audience was ecstatic. And all he did was walk to the stage, scratch his head before selecting one of the five or six guitars he played across the evening; never mind that there were more than a dozen in a semi-circle behind him, a travelling exhibition of instruments and Ben Harper with his thrift-store look.
An image that he no doubt sneaks off to the high end shops for secret manicures, but with songs like Burn One Down about loving the gifts from Mother Earth and other hippie-twaddle rhetoric about saving the world "with my own two hands", he had his audience hooked.
The adenoidal annoyance of the voice, a pained bleat masquerading as passion, as coming from some faux-church of the mind - and the very phoniness of what wouldn't pass muster as a high school poetry assignment, he is, to me, Cat Stevens without the songs, Ry Cooder without the talent.
But to his audience he is everything - he is down to earth and down with the earth, he is the right shade of brown, homogenising black music so as to suggest a soulfulness that is simply not there. But you point out the smoke and mirrors and all you are is the killjoy.
When Diamonds On The Inside arrived - with that opening line: "I knew a girl, her name was Truth/ She was a horrible liar" - something, let's call it my very essence, curled up in a cringe.
But there was, throughout the venue, a feeling of jubilation.
The platitudes tumbled from the stage and were lapped up. A tribute to Jeff Buckley had Harper littering the world with yet another protracted trace-around of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah. There was hand-raising joy from some but it felt like a scam.
The man that has turned the humble campfire singalong into misguided political debate amid lazy strumming didn't need to do anything beyond stand proud and lap up the applause.
And though he gave his fans exactly what they wanted it was hard to hear any actual music.
- © Fairfax NZ News