Grinning and high-fiving his way through the crowd, [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Ben Harper[/lastfm] made a low-key entrance the grand venue of the Ed Sullivan Theater for his Live on Letterman showcase. He sat right down, picked up his lap steel, and with just his intense voice and guitar, immediately began captivating the lucky audience with the song “When It’s Good” from 2003 his album Diamonds on the Inside.
Right from those first notes, everyone watching–in person or online–was reminded just what a stellar musician Harper is.
Things didn’t stay low key for long. As soon as he finished he strapped on an electric guitar, the band emerged from the darkness, and the music took off straight into rock ‘n roll territory with “Don’t Give Up On Me Now” from his brand-new album of his new album Give Till It’s Gone.
It turned out to be a real musician’s show, too, with Harper changing guitars on every single song, and taking the time to tune up properly every time between songs as well. Never mind the moments of silence, the audience was right there with him the whole way through.
On “I Will Not Be Broken” Harper he sat back down, but the sound was if anything more intense, with Ben pulling some truly mean sounds out of his slide guitar. Then on “Waiting on a Sign” he shows he’s still in close contact with the blues.
Switching from the blues, he moved to an acoustic guitar and took a turn into gentler landscapes with “Diamonds on the Inside.” It’s one of his best-known songs, and for good reason: its soul is gentle but its groove is strong.
Fans commenting during the show agreed in full. “Goose bumps,” wrote Writes Faye A Weckle, “loooovvveeee this song !!!” And Antoine Maureen Jacob gushed: “you make my day.”
From the it was back into new material with “Pray That Our Love Sees the Dawn.” It was a quiet, haunting song, but with Ben back on lap steel, it also possessed an underlying metallic edge.
Introducing his next song, Harper told a story about how he and his son compared calluses with [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Paul McCartney[/lastfm] and [lastfm link_type=”artist_info”]Neil Young[/lastfm] during a dinner they attended together — then he dove straight into what was by far the most rocking songs of the night, “Rock and Roll Is Free” (which took inspiration from Young’s classic “Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World”). It’s a beast of a song and an easy standout from his new album. It’s also one of those catchy, ear-grabbing anthems that we bet you’ll be hearing (and singing along to) all summer long.
The wildest guitar playing of the night, though, came next during “Dirty Little Lover.” It’s a raucous song that’s all about the electric lap-steel sound (fans identified the instrument as a Weissenborn), which was gloriously gritty, metallic, raw, and full-on loud.
Just as quickly, though, Harper and his band quieted back down again for “Feel Love”–a gentle, soulful plea that’s as heartbreaking as it is beautiful. (Writes Gerri Sigler: “I don’t understand anyone who doesn’t love this music.”)
And for his tenth and final song of the night, Harper takes things back a few years for “She’s Only Happy in the Sun,” again from his 2003 album Diamonds On The Inside. He’s using an acoustic again, and his voice is as quiet, gentle, and soulful as it’s been all night long.
When It’s Good
Don’t Give Up On Me Now
I Will Not Be Broken
Waiting On A Sign
Diamonds On The Inside
Pray That Our Love Sees The Dawn
Rock and Roll Is Free
Dirty Little Lover
She’s Only Happy In The Sun
If you missed Ben Harper’s Live on Letterman concert webcast, no worries. You can watch it on-demand right here or on CBS.com.