Review: Ben Harper Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

Judging by his righteous performance tonight, Ben Harper must be on ethical steroids. If you could be breathalysed for moral stimulants, the 26-year-old blues/gospel singer would no doubt face charges of being in possession of a slide guitar without due self-pity. Don't let that put you off, though. Thankfully, he's no Henry Rollins, who'd nick his own dinner money just to induce a rush of injured self-disgust, nor is he Sinead O'Connor's damaged angel, taking to the stage for a spot of public exorcism.

Harper sweetens the pill of his undoubtedly stern personal, political and religious homilies with beautifully weighted musical settings and a canny awareness that we haven't turned up a for an evening of collective hand-wringing.

He's careful not to overegg his pious pudding - this prophet rocks. Harper's spiritual militancy also finds a natural home in his more forthright protest songs, in particular "Fight for your Mind" and "People Lead". It doesn't take an impressively faithful "Voodoo Child" to realise that the bluesy rock of the Jimi Hendrix Experience inspires the powerful articulation of his band, the innocent Criminals.

Here too, though, as in the storming "Like a King" (where Bob Marley's eloquent indignation surfaces in Harper's response to the beating of Rodney King and the LA riots), Harper gets surprising mileage from some pretty obtuse refrains. With the requisite black consciousness inflections (Black Panther clenched fists, unflinching grimace), a funky Rastafarian T-shirt and lyrics as, well, let's say "roomy" as: "Some people believe, I some people know, I Some people deceive, I Some people show", somehow achieve a universal significance.

That may be the key to his success: his masterful absorption of the political and blues histories of black music. On this evidence at least, he seems to be the true heir to the soulful rock and R&B of Jimi Hendrix and Prince.

It's difficult to nominate any serious competition, save the mere pretender Lenny Kravitz. Harper wears his heritage lightly. Marvin Gaye, Cat Stevens, Aaron Neville, Sly and Stone hang in Harper's crisp voice all evening, defying the ship's funnel acoustics of the Empire.

Come evening's end, the angelic Harper and his compelling millennial blues have the audience singing a funky a cappella gospel to itself, resolving to "rise and shake off the shackles of history". In the Church of the House of Harper, anything seems possible.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP / MYSQL)

£30 - 40k + Benefits & Bonus: Guru Careers: A Software / Web Developer (PHP / ...

Guru Careers: Software Developer / Web Developer (PHP)

£30 - 50k (DOE): Guru Careers: An experienced Software / Web Developer (PHP) i...

Guru Careers: Junior Artworker / Junior Mac Artworker

£18 - 23k + Bonus + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Junior Artworker / Junior Mac Ar...

Guru Careers: Account Manager

£30 - 38k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a digitally focussed Account Man...

Day In a Page

Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

That's a bit rich

The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

Britain's Atlantis

Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

David Starkey's assessment
Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

'An enormous privilege and adventure'

Oliver Sacks writing about his life
'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

Orthorexia nervosa

How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

Set a pest to catch a pest

Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests