Ben Harper + Charlie Musselwhite = Magic

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite Montreal

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Review Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite @ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier July 3rd, 2018

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite Montreal
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite Montreal

The only thing cooler than the air conditioning inside Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier were the men on stage tonight:  Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite along with an amazing band.

Ella Fitzgerald Award Montreal Jazz Festival
Ella Fitzgerald Award Montreal Jazz Festival

During yesterday’s press conference and presentation of the Ella Fitzgerald Award, I asked Ben a question: “I don’t know you personally, but you seem like a chill dude.  What is the difference between Ben Harper the man and Ben Harper the powerhouse of a performer on stage?”

His answer revealed that what you see is you what get.  “At a certain age, we are fully realized.  Whether we like it or not.  You can incrementally shift, change, evolve, grow.  At a certain point, who you are is what you’re going to be and what you’re going to bring, as far as how you lead. It’s just the accumulation of nature, nurture.  Where I’ve come from.  Where I’ve been.  Where I’m at and where I hope to be bound.”

The “nurture” part is due to the influence of his grandparents’ music store The Folk Music Center and Museum(est. in 1958). Ben recently bought the store that his mom manages, keeping the legacy alive for years to come.

I can picture young Ben, hanging around the shop, spinning records that would leave an imprint so deep, it would be forever be etched into his own voice and sound.  Visitors like Ry Cooder, David Lindley and Taj Mahal and even our own Leonard Cohen would be within reach to inspire and influence curious Ben further on his musical journey.

Ben is a man of determination.  When record labels scoffed at his combination of various styles for an album, he didn’t back down.  He’s humble, yet confident.  That confidence paid off, because the public can spot talent with integrity.  The labels learned to trust his instincts.

For Ben, working with Charlie Musselwhite is like working with his hero.  He’s sure that Charlie would love it if Ben turned the admiration level down a notch.  But with that admiration, comes respect.

The performance was a chance to see both men perform with that same respect and admiration.  Both allowed the other to shine.  Cherokee blood brothers who also share a love for blues.

Seeing them perform together was magical.

Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite Jazz Festival Montreal
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite Jazz Festival Montreal

Ben dedicated “I Don’t Believe a Word You Say” to Trump, who unfortunately, was not in the audience to hear “I see your mouth moving, but there’s a circus coming out.”

Church left a deep impression on Ben, specifically the tambourine.  “Bad Habits” brings him back to that feeling of a rousing gospel tambourine heavy song.  He started the song on the guitar making it sound like that memory stuck deep within.

His reverence for Bob Marley is honored with “Burn One Down”. Sung with more power than his album version.  This was a goose-bump moment for me, not the last.

Ben spoke about an exhibit where you can visit the flat that Jimmy Hendrix lived in.  His record collection included Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Band.

This was his way of praising Charley, showing just what an influence he had other legends.

Of course, “When the Levee Breaks” was the crescendo of the night, reprising the Memphis Minnie song which Led Zeppelin and even Perfect Circle also covered.  Ben’s rendition blows them all out of the water, pardon the pun.

The encore consisted of 2 more songs from their latest album No Mercy In This Land, where Charlie sounded like a young Johnny Cash.

The last song chosen was “All That Matters Now”, a song that would again cause goosebumps to explode across the crowd.  Like Ben hinted at, during the press conference, he would push the limits of his voice and the acoustics of the room by singing acapella, without a microphone. “Been thrown by the wind, drowned in the rain”, was expelled from Ben’s inner musical chest only to bellow through each and every soul in that theatre.

It was powerful and raw, laced with emotions and tenderness.  That was the moment I was referring to, in my question about the powerhouse of a performer Ben Harper has become.

In that moment, I understood his answer to me.  When he mentioned his journey, the nature and the nurture, he hinted about where he was bound.  He was wrong. Ben is not a man bound for great things, he is a man unbound, unleashed, with a passion that only comes from deep roots, instilled from his family and musical heritage.  Heroes like Charlie Musselwhite amplify his power, and let it reach more ears.

Charlie can sleep soundly at night, knowing the legacy of the music he chose to play is safe within Ben. It will be shared, amplified and loved for years to come.  They are now bound together forever on disk, and now, to a memory of a night we will never forget.

Setlist

When I Go
Bad Habits
The Blues Overtook Me
I Don’t Believe a Word You Say
Movin’ On
I’m in I’m Out and I’m Gone
Trust You to Dig My Grave
I Ride at Dawn
Found the One
I’m Goin’ Home
Blood Side Out
When Love is Not Enough
When the Levee Breaks

Encore

No Mercy in This Land
The Bottle Wins Again
All That Matters Now

Review & Photos by Randal Wark

Randal Wark is a Professional Speaker and MasterMind Facilitator with a passion for live music.  You can follow him on InstagramTwitter and YouTube.

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