Friday, December 05, 2008

Relentless 7 at The Belly Up 12.3.08

I've still got a Yeasayer recap kicking around half-written, but while that percolates I can take a swing at Ben Harper's current side project. Relentless 7 is the kinda-secrety collaboration with Ben Harper, O:A guitarist Jason Mozersky, Oval Office-er Jesse Ingalls and sometimes-Misbegotten member Jordan Richardson. All of whom played on 2006's Both Sides of the Gun album. The kickoff for their 7 (get it?) stop December mini-tour was right here in Solana Beach. Ben Harper doesn't play venues this size very often so this was a hot ticket.

Aussie singer/songwriter Grace Woodroofe opened up the evening. She seemed a bit intimidated by the crowd (I believe she's all of 19 years old), but nailed a really nice set of soulful, acoustic blues that was a deceptively effective set up for R7. Trivia sidenote: Woodroofe was the first artist signed to Masses Music Co.- a joint venture between Ben Harper and the late Heath Ledger. Ledger directed Ben Harper's "Morning Yearning" and "Reason to Mourn" videos and Woodroofe's video for her cover of David Bowie's "Quicksand" which appears to be impossible to locate on the internet.

But then it was time for the buzzing crowd to receive Relentless 7. From the first few notes, it was clear that- despite the definite chops of all the players- this would be a Ben Harper show. When the full compliment of Innocent Criminals are involved, there's less focus on Ben himself. This was very much a showcase for Ben himself, swinging through two hours of his catalog, covers (I heard some Led Zeppelin. And Prince? Really? I think I heard Prince...) and a few cuts that nobody seemed to recognize. I don't claim to be a Ben Harper expert or anything, but I'm familiar enough. So I admit to being caught off guard when the random guy next to me leaned over while the audience was singing along and asked "how do people know the words?" Erm...

Nevertheless, everyone from the hardcore fans to the casual "My friend gave me a ticket, I don't even know where I am right now" attendees really got into things. There are certain performers/bands that seem to transcend a number of genres and provide all sorts of people something to latch onto and enjoy. R7 hit that balance nicely.

The vibe was decidedly different from usual BHIC shows- at least the couple I've seen. Not quite as jammy and bluesy as usual, a lot heavier on the shredding and wailing side of things. Which was kinda counter-intuitive for such an intimate setting (check the pics, somehow that night the Belly Up felt like somebody's basement) but it really amplified the face-melting impact of everything. And when they slid into a thoroughly unexpected and soulful cover of Under Pressure during the encore- well hell. That brought the whole show full circle on the Bowie tip and cemented this as a "stupid smile on the way out" show.

And heck yes I bought a shirt. And I'll be stealing the vinyl from a friend at some point.

(Thanks Chris for the photos and smooth talking security)

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