Ben Harper – Live @ The Bowl of Brooklands, New Plymouth 2020
Imagine; Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals, The Bowl of Brooklands, thousands of fans, and the first lot of bucketing rain Taranaki has seen all summer. That is what I and thousands of fans got to be a part of last night, and man, what an experience.
WORDS BY KJ PANUI
Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals’ New Zealand tour started at the very luscious Bowl of Brooklands in New Plymouth. It is a great place to start before continuing his six-date tour (including the Electric Avenue music festival) across Aotearoa. The town itself has the motto ‘like no other’ and the venue being an amphitheatre itself also lives up to the name.
The Bowl is a venue that is underused in the music industry however, has seen the likes of some very renowned musicians such as Elton John, Fleetwood Mac and most recently six60. I like to think that those who are lucky enough to play there are a part of an elite club. Similar to the infamous ’27 club’ but without all the death. Exactly. It’s that special.
Toby Burrows from Neptune Entertainment was heard saying that the New Plymouth leg of the tour was the ‘strongest selling of the whole tour’ and why wouldn’t it be.
Thousands have turned up from a vast demographic. You can see the dedicated fans that have followed Harper and his work from the early 90’s, to the next generation who have been privileged enough to have their parents blast their ears with his talents. My flatmate is one of those true fans, this being his 3rd Harper concert kitted with all the gears that reflect this.
You have to give it up to Harper for picking one hell of a supporting act. Matt Corby is a name that you want to know. The indie, psychedelic, acoustic rocker fits in well with the venue.
Like Harper, he is gifted when it comes to music. One moment he’s on the drums, the next he’s playing guitar and then you have his incredibly soulful voice. Not to mention he is a looker for the eyes.
Corby entertains us with his well renown “Brother”. It is a song that really shows off what he can do with his voice. From when the introduction starts with soothing sounds, to the soulful stresses he puts on words that need it. You can see this is a song that means a lot. And it should, with it being downloaded over 22million times.
The song that I am waiting for, however, is “Resolution”. That was my first introduction to Corby and it was a time when the words meant more than anything. And from the reaction of the crowd, I am not the only one to have that experience. Corby’s voice is almost drowned out with the number of people joining in on the lyrics. Very harmonic, minus my poor attempt at the high notes.
When Corby’s set is done it is time for the crowd to gather themselves and grab refreshments. It is great to see venues doing their part for the environment with the cup system. For doing your thing and collecting cups for the bars, at the end of the night you can make $1 a cup. I will be giving this a go later on.
Finally, the sun has set, the lighting and sound changes, we see the iconic hat that is Harper and we hear “Oppression”. And then we feel the rain.
It is good to hear earlier tracks from his 90’s albums “Fight for your mind” and his debut album “Welcome to the cruel world” (which has a special place in my heart debuting on my birthday). What makes you appreciate Harper, even more, is that he isn’t out there to try to make his sound more modern. He is giving the fans exactly what they came for.
Harper continues with popular “Steal my kisses” and also wows the crowd with his musical talents. At times, if you looked away then back to the stage you would have to figure out where Harper was and what instrument he was playing. From the guitar to lap steel, to slide and even the drums, this guy was giving us a show well worth the money.
The only thing the Innocent Criminals are criminals for is making people lose themselves as they fall into the trance of their tribal beats. These guys have been with Harper for much of the journey and can be attributed to the uniqueness that makes him stand out. It’s like a WOMAD experience at a personal level. And then the rain continues.
The rain is pouring down and even that is an understatement. The African beats, the voice that is Harper and the high supply of alcohol means everyone is lost in the moment. Toto blessed the rains in Africa on this very stage last year, however, the rain gods got it wrong and brought the rains to New Plymouth instead.
The fans were loving it, and feeling the beat. Some to the extreme of dancing in the pond with the hope to get closer to our rain man Harps. And to top it off, he played some amazing covers of “Superstition”, “Are you experienced” and “Jeremy”.
As the saying goes in Taranaki, it was “how meke? Tūmeke!”
This spiritual cleansing was really one to be a part of. I can assume that Harper and the Innocent Criminals would have enjoyed themselves and this blessing as much as we did. If you have the chance, go see them. You won’t have the same amazing experience as we did, but I bet he will try give you a run for your money!