Ben Harper, Getting Back To Reality

At Fuji Rock it’s pretty easy to forget the social unrest and tragedy that’s dominated the international news these last few weeks. This weekend of peace, music and happy consumerism is insulated in a big way from all the ugly realities out there — Brexit, the terrorist tragedy in Nice, France, and police shootings in the US. But there’s always a bit of a political element in music at Fuji Rock, and this year I had almost forgotten this until Ben Harper’s set on Sunday evening.

Earlier this year, Harper and his band the Innocent Criminals released the album Call It What It Is, which is a direct address to the social catastrophe happening in America today. Though he opened with some old favorites and closed with a quick reprise of his hit “Faded”, he played quite a few tunes from the new album. The title track, which minces no words, rang out clean and clear across the massive Green Stage amphitheater:

They shot him in the back,
Now it’s a crime to be black

So don’t act surprised
When it gets vandalized

There’s good cops, bad cops
white cops, black cops

Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford
Michael Brown, and so many more

Then the chorus goes: “Call it what it is, call it what it is, call it what it is… Murder.”

Other tunes like “Better Way” from Both Sides of the Gun and, from the new album, “Finding Our Way” and “Shine” reinforced his message of hope in the midst of dire circumstances.

Though Harper is known as a new generation reggae star, this was really a rock concert, with a big stadium sound and plenty of chances for his backing players to highlight their musicianship in solos and jams. Harper himself moved from electric to acoustic to holding a slide guitar in his lap, or even marocas or other hand percussion. But really, it was those moments when he went a capella, just him singing to 20,000 people, that you realized that what was keeping you here was his presence and the power in the way that he wielded his voice.

Ben Harper
Jason Mozersky
Jason Yates
Juan Nelson
Leon Mobley
Oliver Charles

Text by David Frazier Posted on 2016.7.24 20:57